I Understand Why The DETROIT Movie Was Made, But I Can’t Recommend That You See It » VSB

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I Understand Why The DETROIT Movie Was Made, But I Can’t Recommend That You See It

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Annapurna Pictures

 

Despite living away from my native Detroit for nearly a decade and a half, I stay connected to the city through frequent visits to my immediate family and through friends on social media. As of late, I’ve heard quite a few mixed-to-negative feelings about the upcoming DETROIT film from native Detroiters, so my first goal when touching down at Detroit Metro Airport on a paid press junket for the film was to figure out why so many people are taking umbrage.

The very first person I asked was the Lyft driver – a brother just a few years older than me – who took me from the airport to my hotel. He was concerned that DETROIT – a film centered around the racially motivated five-day rebellion in July 1967 that resulted in more than 40 deaths and thousands of destroyed buildings – might disrupt relations between native black folks and the city’s “new” white people, who are ostensibly at the helm of the city’s “revival” that people have been waiting for since I was pushing a big wheel.

On the driver’s behalf, I asked DETROIT screenwriter Mark Boal during a press conference with the cast and creators of the film if he and director Kathryn Bigelow had given thought to how such an inherently incendiary film would be received by an increasingly gentrifying Detroit. He admitted that he doesn’t know much about the Detroit of 2017, reinforcing that the story itself needed to be told. “A lot of people from [Detroit] don’t know the story even if they grew up here,” he said. “If that’s true in Detroit, it’s certainly true elsewhere.”

As I wait with bated breath for the movie’s Aug. 4 wide release so everyone can see and discuss it, I’ve zero doubt that DETROIT will anger many – especially black folks – for what will likely be several different reasons. In the film, the ’67 rebellion serves as a backdrop for the so-called Algiers Motel incident, where three black boys were killed, and seven black males and two white women were brutalized in one night by white officers from the Detroit and Michigan State police departments, as well as the Michigan Army National Guard.

The film depicts a borderline torture-porn degree of brutality that puts it in the company of films like Rosewood and 12 Years a Slave, in that will make you want to go into the office the morning after watching and push fucking Todd in accounting with his fucking chinos and fucking tucked-in Polo shirt out of the motherfucking plate-glass window on the 12th floor. I have a strong constitution for hard-to-watch movies, but even I had to pass my ticket to the world premiere off since there was no way in the name of Vishnu that I would sit through it twice in three days. There were many shed tears and some walk-outs at the screening I attended. It’s rough like that.

For us native Detroiters, there’ll certainly be an element of aggravation at the fact that there’s an eponymous movie representing the city in such a harsh, if historical, light, considering that the media has spent years portraying Detroit like its Mogadishu in the early 1990s. Sure, it’s a historical film depicting events from 50 years ago, but Detroiters are fiercely defensive people and this is just another thing that will make us want to throw hands at shit-talking outsiders.

There are numerous moments throughout DETROIT that might anger viewers less in a pre-Mike Brown zeitgeist: There’s the depiction of a police officer under investigation for murder who is allowed back on the street in active duty. There are the while girls boldly flapping their gums to white police officers under the (correct) assumption that they will, indeed, survive the night. There’s also a white savior component to the film that will rankle some people; sure, very few people believe that all white police officers are evil, but the portrayal of sympathetic white cops will certainly make people feel Some Type of Way™ less than two months after the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killer.

Folks have also made noise about the lack of black women in the DETROIT cast – even I was surprised when I couldn’t find one in the press materials. Samira Wiley pops up looking fly for about seven seconds, and every other sista in the film pops up in a SAG-AFTRA minimum-rate capacity. However, Black women simply weren’t present at the Algiers Motel during the incident. Considering the film’s brutal content, we shouldn’t want black women to be unnecessarily injected into that.

All of the aforementioned issues dovetail into one of the film’s chief critiques: should Bigelow and Boal, both white, be the ones to tell such a racially charged story? Some believe that protracted police brutality against black men is a bit voyeuristic when viewed through a white lens, and have increased strictures against the filmmakers’ every decision as a result. Was the black kid getting beat that harshly in real life? Or did these white folks just do it for effect?

When asked about this at the press conference, Bigelow said she had a very “lengthy conversation with myself” before taking on the movie. “This story needed to be told, and that kind of overrode any other hesitation,” she said. “I thought, ‘I have this platform and opportunity, and the story needs to see the light of day.’ I took advantage of that while, at the same time, realizing it’s a concern and challenge.”

Like Bigelow, I believe that someone needs to tell the story…especially considering that, like Boal said, many native Detroiters don’t know much about the ’67 rebellion. The extent of my own verbal history lesson was my mother explaining that, when she was 14-year-old, my grandmother had to threaten death to her and her siblings if they even thought of running to 12th Street to get a “free” television like the neighbors across the street did. Would it have been better for John Singleton or a Hughes brother or Ava Duvernay to tackle the story…? Perhaps, but that would require waiting around for a story that may never actually get told on screen.

Stepping back from the list of gripes, if the Algiers Motel incident had to be filmed by a white director, I’m glad it was Bigelow. I will forever be a Point Break stan, and DETROIT contains some of the same masterful directing and sound editing that created the near-masochistic levels of tension she employed in her Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.

The set, mostly shot in and around Boston, actually resembles Detroit; Motown music is used to great effect, and the acting should generate Oscar buzz: Algee Smith, who played Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story, serves as the film’s emotional center and is destined to be a true star. And, because he does such an amazing job, you’ll truly despise every hair on the comically arched eyebrows of Will Poulter’s Philip Krauss, the film’s primary antagonist. (The British actor is actually extremely genteel in person.)

I won’t dismiss as unjustifiable the inevitable firestorm of polarizing opinions about DETROIT. But my primary concern is that viewers – especially non-black ones – don’t leave the theater thinking that the half-century-old true story it depicts is ancient history and outside of the realm of reality in a 2017 in which our president marginalized an entire fucking minority group with his Twitter fingers this week. The Ford Galaxie 500 police cruisers in the film may have been updated to Ford Fusions, and the “boys” and hard-r “niggers” not uttered as liberally by cops. But it takes little more than a glance at the national news on any given day to realize that racial relations among police and black folks have a long way to go.

Dustin Seibert

Dustin J. Seibert lifts heavy weights and plays all his video games on hard mode to find peace. He has a better ear for hip-hop than anyone else you know. He writes like the English language is going outta style because the steaks in his freezer are dependent on it.

  • Me

    I simply don’t waste my time on Becky issues… even if their issues pertain to the black men they slob on. So Detroit might not even get pirated as far as I’m concerned.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    ” Bigelow and Boal, ” probably the only people who could get funding for it.

    • cysinblack

      Plan B are the only game in town granting black filmmakers anatomy to make what they want.

  • Alessandro De Medici

    I don’t know if I’ll watch the movie, but I don’t think who tells the story matters as much as how good the storyteller is.

    Shout out to All Eyez on Me lol.

  • I’m going to check it out as soon as I can.

  • cysinblack

    Is Jacob Latimore’s character killed?

  • Nametaken

    Actually, the DPD uses Chevy Caprices (I’m extremely pedantic), but I also had reservations about seeing this movie for pretty much all the reasons you described. I’m not a “Detroiter”, but I am from SE Michigan; from a city that’s majority black and rather poor, surrounded entirely by wealthy white cities and townships, was hit very hard by the auto industry downturn with the closure of all of the GM plants in the nearby area, and is probably going to also be heavily gentrified.

    • Brooklyn_Bruin

      Where do the gentrifiers work?

      • Nametaken

        In Detroit? I have no idea, but probably in the hundreds of Grub-Hub-knockoff startups that won’t be around in a year, or in some knew restaurant that could fit any one of a plethora of hipster stereotypes. In my city, I don’t think they’ve taken a hold yet, but they’ll probably eventually set up shop downtown, along Woodward Ave., and near/on the grounds of the Silverdome when (if) it finally gets demolished.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          In DC they work in tech, Fed, law, lobby, and contractors.

          Houston it was energy.
          Cali – tech

          Brooklyn? Some finance, but it was clear to me 6 people in a Bushwick 2 bedroom would not be sustainable.

          That’s why I wonder about Detroit . Housing *should* be a consequence of jobs.

          • I hear Detroit is Killing Silicon Valley in the Self-driving car race.

            • Brooklyn_Bruin

              “Internet” companies are usually wealthy, but they don’t employ *lots* of people in high wage jobs.

              400 people making 80-100k versus 10,000 making 50,000.

              It’s a bad scene all around in my view.

            • Val

              That’s a good thing.

              • I wanna visit the University of Michigan.

                Michigan’s New Motor City: Ann Arbor as a Driverless-Car Hubhttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/09/business/driverless-car-autonomous-university-michigan.html

                • Val

                  Wow, that’s interesting. Didn;t know about that since the media seems biased toward Silicon Valley.

                  • Nametaken

                    It’s very much a point of pride for U of M’s engineering program. It’s interesting that it’s not well known outside of Michigan though. It makes sense that the media would have a West Coast bias, but that you’d never even heard of it is kinda surprising.

                    • Val

                      Every single thing I’ve seen or read on this has been about Silicon Valley. But I’m glad Detroit or that area is in the mix. Much better chance of some of those dollars ending up in Black pockets. Silicon Valley doesn’t like hiring Black folks.

                    • Nametaken

                      GM themselves also plan to start testing autonomous cars on the roads in the near future (which is great for developing them to deal with challenging situations, since Michigan’s awful roads are the stuff of legend). I don’t really like autonomous tech personally, as I’m one of the few people who actually enjoys driving (though I could obviously see its benefits), but I’m if it’s going to happen, I’d rather it happen in Michigan than on the West Coast like literally everything else.

                      But the lack of Black people in “tech” and engineering is an industry-wide problem, not just in Cali unfortunately. It also doesn’t help that there’s very few of us that are even able to pursue it as a field in the first place. Quite a few people have told me that there’s a surplus of engineering jobs in Michigan, but they have trouble finding people to fill them.

                    • Val

                      I personally think the autonomous car thing is much further in the future than the media and companies involved want us to believe. I mean, you can make them sure but there are already millions of cars on the road, so what happens to them?

                      Plus, who is really excited about self driving cars? America has a very strong car culture, we like to take the wheel and go. This is not that. Plus, they have been promising autonomous cars since the 50s.

                      As for Black folks, the vehicles that do come out of this new interest will likely be more geared toward industry. So Black folks have a chance to work on the actual line to produce them moreso than in Silicon Valley. Not to many Black folks at Tesla, for instance.

                • Nametaken

                  Ann Arbor is an awesome place! (Slightly biased because it’s my alma mater, and I also studied engineering there – though with no real interest in autonomous driving).

            • Nametaken

              I’m very much happy about that. Well, as happy as someone who enjoys driving themselves can be. I’m tired of California taking everything, and I can’t stand Tesla and Elon Musk especially (It’s probably totally irrational, but there ya go…).

          • Nametaken

            In Detroit it would probably be tech and finance (basically like Shady mentioned above). Many auto industry jobs that are created in the area are going to be the engineering, tech, and business venture kind.

            • Brooklyn_Bruin

              Why aren’t native Detroit folks working these jobs? Is it a persistent education gap, it just plain ol racism?

              • Yes and yes.
                SE Michigan is basically Mississippi North in some ways.
                But anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate.
                There’s a lot of work to be done.
                The auto companies don’t need the numbers of people they used to and have moved most of their plants outside of city limits/overseas.

                • Brooklyn_Bruin

                  Functionally illiterate *adults* means decades of educational disenfranchisement.

                  Them folks know what they doing.

                  • Nametaken

                    Indeed. Detroit’s been hemorrhaging people to the ‘burbs and other parts of the country for decades now. It’s less than half the population it was at its peak in the ’60s, and public transportation is awful, especially between Detroit and the ‘burbs. Probably more than any other major city in the country, you NEED a car to participate in society here. But, counterintuitively, Detroit also has the highest auto insurance rates in the state, and probably the nation.

                    So Detroit:
                    1.) Has a large demographic of poor black people
                    2.) Is severely lacking in public transportation (especially a link to the suburbs)
                    3.) Also has astronomical auto insurance rates that aren’t comparable anywhere else in the state, and maybe not even the country

                    As much as I like cars and driving, the situation with public transit is BS. Fortunately I’m also a fan of trains, so a Chicago Metra-style system would make me very happy, but the only train linking Detroit with outside communities is an Amtrak train that runs from Pontiac, through Detroit, to Chicago that I used to ride back and forth to college in Ann Arbor. The trip from Pontiac to Ann Arbor alone was 2 hours, and driving is 50 minutes…(rush hour is still “only” 1.5 hours, while the train is never quicker than 2 hours).

                    • Brooklyn_Bruin

                      Wow, that’s crazy. I’ll have to move Motown up on my list of places to visit. I hear that Gary Indiana is worse off

                    • I pass on trains. I’d rather drive my cosmic car.. 😁
                      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOBUqCIXXWY

                    • Yes to Detroit Techno!!!

                    • Nametaken

                      Why does that actually slap tho?

                    • Nik White

                      Hooooo!

                    • Val

                      Sounds like the perfect plan to do harm to Black Detroiters.

                    • The non link between the burbs and the city was deliberately done by rich whites in Oakland County.. they didn’t want ni66as catching the bus to better paying jobs in the burbs… Hayle, The SEMTA bus STILL doesn’t go THRU West Bloomfield!

                    • Nametaken

                      And of course Oakland County also killed that regional transportation millage last year…

                    • Nametaken

                      I actually keep forgetting that the SMART buses are a thing. There’s so few of them on these routes I keep getting surprised to see one. It also makes Ann Arbor feel like it’s in the middle of nowhere.

                    • D-Nice

                      Yeah. That deliberate non-link between city and burbs happened for the same reasons in a lot of cities. For example, there’s a reason why in a metro area as fast-growing and robust as Atlanta, the MARTA trains aren’t extended further out out into the northern metro counties.

                  • Yep… 20, 30 years ago. you could cake in the plants and not be educated… they bought those people out and are now starting at $14 and $15 ann hour.. for jobs that used to start at $20, $22, @4 and hour plus overtime

                    • Brooklyn_Bruin

                      Boo!

                    • Yeah you ain’t caking in the plant no more….

                    • Nametaken

                      Yep. My dad was one of those people. He worked at a GMC truck plant for several decades and took a buyout. Fortunately it also coincided with him approaching retirement age.

              • Nametaken

                It’s both. Detroit has 2 really good public high schools out of a bunch of other ones, and the school system was in the news all last year with a new story every day about schools with only a handful of working toilets and collapsing ceilings, mold, rodents, not enough books, no functioning computers, etc. The state of Michigan pretty much took it over some years ago and as far as I can tell it hasn’t really gotten better.

                Then the few black folks in these fields and others helping to “revitalize” the city almost never get coverage. The face of the “reemergence” is very much white.

                • Brooklyn_Bruin

                  They create the problem, then take credit for the solution.

              • Val

                You know how it works, BB. They hire people that look like them.

                • Brooklyn_Bruin

                  Sure, there is always that.
                  Are they breathing up all of the oxygen though?

                  I got peoples in the D that essentially serve that community, and carve off some of their discretionary income. Most of which ends up back into white owned coffers quickly – but there have to be options. Folks who worked an assembly line might be sitting on some industrial engineering knowledge that could be unlocked somehow.

                  Call me a dreamer

                  • Val

                    I want to be optimistic too, BB, but gentrifyers do not make room for the folks that already live there. And banks give all the money to the gentrifyers. So, between that and just general racism it’s not easy for us.

                    • Brooklyn_Bruin

                      My view is more complicated than that. But to put it simply – while they’re over there doing that, not paying attention to me – what can I do that doesn’t involve them?

                    • Val

                      I hear you, BB, I really do but gentrified areas are created to exclude us. So it’s always like swimming upstream.

                      For instance; even if you want to start a business the gentrification means rents are sky high. And since you can’t get that loan that Chad and Becky got to start their cupcake business you can’t afford IT.

                      Plus, you have to fight “new” zoning laws that are meant to keep you and your business out.

                      And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

                    • Brooklyn_Bruin

                      Yeah, that’s not a space I am interested in. But since I don’t have my master plan entirely figured out, I’m most going to leave it at that.

                    • Nik White

                      Some of us are and have been quietly doing it for years. You’d have to check the Michigan Chronicle,BLAC magazine, local radio or the barber shop to hear about it.

              • Nik White

                Several went to the ‘burbs when there weren’t opportunities in the city and others aren’t afforded the opportunity.

          • Val

            Lots of hipster start ups in Detroit.

            • Brooklyn_Bruin

              Ann Arbor grads?

              • Val

                No idea where they came from. From the stories I’ve heard they are from all over. Detroit has turned into a hipster capitol. They love gentrifying.

                • Nametaken

                  Quite a few artists come from NYC actually. They literally got bored of gentrifying there, so they wanted to try somewhere new.

                  • Cheech

                    Not just bored, broke. The artists are the vanguard–they have no money, find a low-rent area, and do their thing. Those in search of hip notice, and start gentrifying. When the rents come up and the old industrial spaces turn condo, the artists are priced out too and it’s time to move on.

                • esa

                  they actually describe themselves as “pioneers” ~ zero self awareness or knowledge of history.

            • They are GIVING MONEY AWAY TO STARTUPS!

              • Val

                As always, to White start ups.

      • Quicken Loans, GM, Illitch Enterprises, Compuware…

        • Nik White

          Start ups in Corktown, Tech Town, all up and down Woodward.

      • They work in downtown and usually in industries without the black population of the city.. if you ride down 75… they have all kind of recruiter signs to move to Detroit….

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          In DC, the locals no longer can get into the federal government easily. Qualified applicants from all over the country are applying to jobs here.

          Sounds like Detroit has some of the same problems. There is work, but only if you went to a top school or have a sought after skill set.

          I stay looking for an angle though.
          Gotta be some niche folks can tap into.

          • Same thing happening with city jobs here. Went to the first round of interviews for 911 operator a few years ago and couldn’t believe how many wypipo with degrees from decent schools were there. Guess Becky needs benefits too.

        • Another Man’s Rhubarb

          Yep.

      • Nik White

        Quite a few in the outer ring ‘burbs too.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          So they make that white flight money but pay inner city rent? Smh

    • You’re from Flint?

      • Nametaken

        Pontiac (we were basically the namesake of the now-dead GM division – the symbolism isn’t lost on me…)

        • I like the humor but GM took the name from the Ottawa Chief who was from the area… Pontiac as a town already existed… :-) As did most names for stuff with Detroit / SE Michigan Origins.

          • Nametaken

            You right about the history. I knew Pontiac was around way before GM was, but I forgot about the reason why GM eventually renamed Oakland cars into Pontiac.

  • NomadaNare

    Hard pass

    • miss t-lee

      Also. I’m all the way good.

      • I’ll catch it on cable.

        • miss t-lee

          Might not be even then…lol

        • Nik White

          Or perhaps by supporting a subterranean entrepreneur.

          • BrothasKeeper

            They still exist?

            • cedriclathan

              Pirates still roam the bay.

            • Nik White

              Oh yeah at least in metro Detroit.

    • Wild Cougar

      Nope

  • I want to see it because it was set 50 years ago and people IN DETROIT are so willing to forget about it. Sure, a documentary would be more informative but we need major projects that put a mirror in America’s racist azz face.

    • cysinblack

      They deny our anguish when presented to them with no filter. They do not see us. They are genuinely soulless.

    • ??? NOBODY in Detroit is willing to forget about it. =)
      Not one single person.
      Past two weeks this has been number one topic in newspapers, radio talk shows, online boards, etc.

      • People under 25 don’t know anything that isn’t in a movie.

        • Colby

          Yes people under 25 do… I’m 26, my mom was 16 in 1967, she lived in Detroit all of her life and so have I. I know a thing or two about what happened.

    • Janelle Doe

      (But) Also are those realities not present anywhere? still? on earth today?

      • Yes but that is because we forget the history and keep repeating.

    • Merci1981

      Who in Detroit? Forget what?
      I grew up hearing about it and seeing the scars from the riots on the buildings. We knew why our city is segregated. My grandmother, mother, aunties still discuss it. In my generation , playwright Dominique Morisseau, wrote a play about it. Noone forgot.

      • My uncle once told me that they burned the town in ’67 and never rebuilt it. I’m sure that isn’t completely true but I don’t think people appreciate the scope or how recently this happened.

        • Colby

          It is somewhat true, there are entire sections of the city that haven’t been rebuilt. Detroit is a huge city. Boston, San Francisco and Manhattan fit into the land area of the city of Detroit.

          • Nametaken

            Yet Detroit now only has as many people as Boston by itself.

    • Bruh,… are you asking actual Detroiters? *points to self*

      • Every Black person know people that lived in Detroit.

        • True! Lived and being from.. are different though.. I’m a DETROITER

    • Nik White

      We ain’t forgot!

  • Val

    Didn’t read the post but based upon the title and who wrote it I’m definitely going to see the film.

    • Darkchloe144

      So dark outside all of sudden… ;)

      • Val

        Lol Hi, Chloe. How are you?

        • Darkchloe144

          Okay, despite circumstances. Had to go right back to Memphis cuz original purpose for our trip, a very sick Uncle, passed. Didn’t know him very well, but folks are grieving in various ways. Just trying to duck for cover and undo a pound or two of weightloss in peace, lol.

          • Val

            My condolences. LolYeah, enjoy the bbq.

          • LMNOP

            Sorry to hear about your uncle.

          • Love Heals

            Sorry to hear that. Condolences.

          • BrothasKeeper

            Our sincerest condolences.

            • Darkchloe144

              Thank you very much, you and everyone else ?

          • miss t-lee

            Sorry for your loss.

    • cedriclathan

      Read it. Suspend your disbelief for a few minutes. It’s a good article.

      • Val

        Nah, I’m good, there are other reviews to be read.

    • smh

      • Val

        Don’t sprain your neck.

    • Alessandro De Medici

      Hehe

    • Dustin John Seibert
    • Mary Burrell

      Is this a bad person?

      • Val

        Very bad.

        • Mary Burrell

          Oh dear.

    • PinkRose

      An amazon forest amount of shade there Val. ?

    • Mary Burrell

      It’s a good read but I understand you passing on it.

    • SororSalsa

      I’m glad the story is being told, but I just can’t. I couldn’t see 12 Years a Slave either. At first, I felt bad, but I agree with the posters who don’t want to subject themselves to this kind of pain.

    • Monica Harris

      Awesome.

  • PDL….HE still working on me

    Another movie that ain’t calling me.

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