Miya Lee is a documentary filmmaker and an editor of the “Modern Love” column at The New York Times.
Born, raised and based in New York City, Miya is interested in tracking the city’s evolution and exploring the lives of its inhabitants.
When thousands took to the streets of New York City in June 2020 to protest police brutality and systemic racism against Black people, the high-end stores in Soho responded by swiftly boarding up their windows and doors.
In the midst of a devastating pandemic, a massive economic depression and an urgent racial reckoning, the stores’ most pressing concern was to protect luxury goods.
Two artist-led activist groups — Soho Social Impact and Art2Heart — saw an opportunity in the neighborhood’s boarded-up stores. Using the plywood boards as blank canvases, they painted murals to honor Black Americans killed by the police and to call for social and structural change.
Floating above the sidewalks on the neighborhood’s cast-iron facades, the murals recalled the 1970s when Soho was an arts district, not a shopping mall. Painted over the course of a few hours or a few days, the murals were striking and often beautiful, though their subjects were serious.
The murals were also often ignored.
As New York City entered phase four of coronavirus reopening in July, shoppers and tourists returned to Soho. While some passersby stopped to examine the murals, most continued past them — glancing quickly or not at all.
“Writing on the Wall” aims to spark a discussion about what it means to look away and what it means to bear witness. As the murals are taken down, the city’s protests subside and the news cycle races ahead, it seems far too easy for some to forget the summer’s outpouring of pain and calls for change.
Through its observational documentary style, “Writing on the Wall” asks the viewer: Will you remain a bystander despite all you saw?
“Writing on the Wall” documents the transforming streets of Soho, New York City during the Black Lives Matter protests in June and July 2020. It is held together by the musical performance of Sean Bennett, A.K.A. “Yozart,” playing Mozart Violin Concerto No. 4 on the corner of Spring Street and West Broadway.
Soho Social Impact:
Sean Bennett, A.K.A. “Yozart”: