Nearly 50 years after its release, Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Going On” continues to speak to the challenges we face as a society and serve as a call to action -- a point poignantly illustrated by a new video, directed by Savanah Leaf and presented by Motown Records as part of the label’s 60th anniversary celebration. Leaf pairs the classic song with scenes that examine the devastating impact that unresolved issues are having on life for some of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Watch the video below.
“What’s Going On” is the first video from Universal Music Group’s “Never Made” project, a series that creates compelling content for songs that never had an accompanying music video. It was screened last week at the 2019 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference (CBC ALC) following the panel discussion “What’s Going On” to “Let’s Get Going”: Building a Social Movement through the Arts.
Shot over the course of four days in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, the video features many community members. Savanah Leaf, whose directorial credits include the award-winning short film The Ayes Have It and music videos for Common and Gary Clark Jr., explains, “We wanted a place that resonates with the song and the history of Motown, while also remaining relevant to the sociopolitical issues in the music video. It was very important for us to find real people that resonated with the stories, rather than casting actors.”
Flint mayor Karen Weaver and pivotal activists involved in the Flint water crisis -- including Ariana Hawk, who was featured on the cover of TIME with her young son at the height of the crisis -- can be seen in the video. Steve Smith, who also has deep roots in the community and worked for Motown as one of the recording engineers on “What’s Going On,” also makes an appearance. Gun violence, the shortcomings of the American healthcare system, police shootings and other topics are also addressed by the video. Heavy.