Believing the media to be the most powerful tool shaping society, Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church has attracted writers and cameramen over the past three decades with his passion for the church and thirst for racial equality in Chicago, if not the world.
As a Fact and Faith installment in Columbia’s Critical Encounters series, “Radical Disciple” is a documentary that focuses on Pfelger’s impact on culture and clashes with the archdiocese of Chicago. It was screened to exemplify the media’s importance in cultural awareness in today’s society.
Students, faculty and the public of all ages filled Film Row Cinema on Jan. 28 for the screening and a subsequent forum.
Pfleger was joined by Thom Clarke, president of Columbia’s community media workshop, and Bob Hercules, who directed “Radical Disciple.” The discussion was moderated by associate film and video professor Jeff Spitz.
The film followed Pfleger around Chicago and in his sanctuary and archival footage as far back as the early ’50s.
Pfleger burst into the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign when he accused Hillary Clinton of believing she was entitled to the presidential spot because she is white and had been in the White House before.
Pfleger has been tackling the issue of racism since an early age when he witnessed firsthand Native Americans being denied access to a drugstore in Oklahoma.
As the priest of a predominantly black church in Auburn Gresham, a mostly black community on the South Side, Pfleger came to St. Sabina Church in the mid-’80s when the church was sparsely attended and the neighborhood was a place of low income housing, drug trafficking and prostitution.
Pfleger would visit local convenience stores, threatening to close them for selling alcohol and tobacco to minors.
He said he first realized the power of the media when he discovered how it could spread his messages.
“[Civil rights activist] Dick Gregory said, ‘Mike, if you’re going to 10 stores a week, you’ll be going to stores until you’re 90, trying to get this issue out there.’” Pfleger said. “‘Call the media when you go to that store. Let them cover it, and then you’ll hit a thousand stores while you’re hitting one,’” Pfleger said.
Pfleger emphasized the power of the media to shape the world through their lack of coverage of Haiti prior to the earthquake that occurred Jan. 12 near Port-au-Prince.
“Why do we allow [media makers] to interpret Haiti or Haitians?” Pfleger asked. “Why did they not go to Haiti looking for stories before the earthquake? [The media] has got to see the eyes through the people and they’ve got to stop telling people what to see.”
Spitz said Pfleger is always the one to shine a light on civil disobedience and racial awareness.
“In all of these years, there’s been one consistent white figure playing a role in trying to raise awareness for everyone about this inequality and about all of the ills that come from this initial racism Chicago is so beleaguered by,” Spitz said. “It’s always Father Mike [Pfleger].”
Spitz said he wanted students to see how Chicago’s racial housing and educational systems and economy have led to one man’s transformation and what he’s been able to accomplish by organizing within one parish with like-minded people.
Clark said “Radical Disciple” is an important film because of the intersection of the creative arts documentary and journalism, as well as the ongoing reality of race and politics in a city like Chicago.
“Whether they are a journalist—print or broadcast—filmmakers or quite frankly, artists,” Clark said. “There’s a lot of natural human drama played out in a very real stage of Chicago neighborhood politics.”