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Marvin Gaye 'What's Going On' by Savanah Leaf

David Knight - 15th Sept 2019

Savanah Leaf has given contemporary relevance to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On in her powerful music video for the 1971 classic.

In the description under the video on YouTube she writes: “We shot ‘What’s Going On' in Detroit and Flint Michigan, 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.

"The music video took four days to shoot, but I travelled to Michigan a couple weeks early to find the right people. It was very important for us to find real people that resonated with the stories, rather than casting actors. We wanted the history of the song and the communities we filmed in to come through in our video.

"For example, Steve Smith, who plays the blind man in our music video, actually worked for Motown when ‘What’s Going On’ was originally recorded. The church we filmed in was one of the first establishments to set up a water station for the Flint community - they would hand out clean water and raise awareness on the ongoing crisis within the community.

"In addition to Steve Smith, we had the opportunity to feature other influential community figures in our music video, including Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, and pivotal activists that have been involved in the Flint Water Crisis for many years. One such activist in our music video is named Ariana Hawk, who, along with her young son, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine during the height of the water crisis. She ended up moving from Flint, only to return in order to continue the fight for her community. To this day, the Flint Water Crisis has yet to be resolved, and Ariana continues to be a strong activist in the movement.

"The point is that this is a historic song for an important moment in history, and what’s beautiful is that it’s message is timeless and universal. It’s about human emotions, human relationships, and a coming together. My hope is that our music video will remind people to continue asking the question Marvin Gaye asked in 1971.” 


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David Knight - 15th Sept 2019


  • Director's notes
  • Documentary
  • Soul
  • Motown
  • Motown

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Savanah Leaf
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David Knight - 15th Sept 2019

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