Before my screening of Detroit played, the trailers shown beforehand featured these dumb action movies with bad CGI, you know, the ones expected to score box office success. Boy did it feel refreshing to see what I went to the theater for: a thriller based on a thought-provoking true story about how little has changed since the incident at the Algiers Motel.
First, a stylized prologue educates us on the public 1967 mindset by painting out the prior 100 years of racial history. The colorful film reel fit for an elementary classroom then time-warps us into the riots stirred up by Civil Rights, no sugarcoating included. The Black community embraced unlicensed after-hours club for the initiators of violence. The White police officers reacted to the rebellion by scaring them with death games. In any other director’s hands, this project would have turned out as hate-fueled anti-White propaganda much like The Birth of a Nation or Get Out; rather, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) and her team made great strides to tell the real story of what happened in Detroit.
Everything within the first charcoal-tinted twenty minutes brings sense into Detroit’s economic structure of the time. With each bike stolen, with each fire set ablaze, with each fireman injured by a thrown rock, with each Black woman sexually harassed by an officer, with each piece of real historical news footage, the attention closes in on the personal conflict within the riot rather than the spectacle itself. Although the usage of religious institutions deserved stronger prevalence across the entire runtime to match the moral strife of the time, the big picture still explodes with a great undying flame.
True to Bigelow’s traditional style, a documentary approach records the dramatized events. Despite an unnecessary musical score by James Newton Howard (The Fugitive, Michael Clayton), a grainy Steadicam stressfully complements the sudden edit cuts, transferring the 1967 motion sickness into your own eyeballs.
The tension really sets its spark ablaze during the entire middle chunk: a motel-set interrogation in search for a blank-loaded gun aimed at the police outside. These victims, two of them Ohio-local White prostitutes, the rest young Black men, face the worst of Detroit’s hate over the next hour and a half. The one holding the gun is shot dead, nobody knows the gun’s whereabouts, yet the cops only see an easy chance to humiliate the weak one by one.
Every performer gives their greatest effort, the most impactful being a respectful Army Veteran who to the police is no different than any other negro. But Larry, a struggling musician also harassed that dreadful night, adds the most soul to our soulless history. The two whores receive the same poor treatment as their Black companions, lovingly supporting each other even after one gets stripped nude by a cop. While their stories lack their full potential, standing more as victims than empowering female role models, their sentimentality despite their destructive lifestyles make it easy for women to connect with. As with the other Black victims, none of them were motivated enough to cheer on, yet you can still tell them each apart simply by looking at their wardrobe.
By now, I believe screenwriter Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) just proved himself to be the most underrated writer in Hollywood today, as he achieved great heights to the artform by writing under a variety of styles, including courtroom drama, real time, and visual storytelling. His intense dialogue helps us to physically feel the situation without coming off as one-sided. He structures the multiple events so that every death hits you hard in the right timing, as true to the expressed motives we learn about each character, whether Black or White.
The issues seen here at Detroit looks upsettingly familiar to the anti-Trump riots we see today, almost normalized on a daily basis as it was back then. However, hope manages to lie within its social message: no stereotypes raise their ugly head, not all Blacks involved in the riots are mean spirited, and not all cops are racists. The different social groups stand up for one another and some even stand up for the other side, in a story everybody over the age of eighteen needs to know at once, especially now during the summer season.
So bottom line, this history lesson matters to you: Black or White, male or female, young or old, innocent or guilty!
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Detroit. 20th Century Fox. Web. <http://detroit.movie/>.
Tinubu, Aramide. “Why Are Black Women Missing From the Blistering ‘Detroit’ Trailer?” Digital image. Jetmag. Ebony Media Operations, 13 Apr 2017. Web. <https://www.jetmag.com/entertainment/why-are-black-women-missing-from-the-blistering-detroit-trailer/>.