DETROIT ‘movie’- A powerful indictment of racism
Detroit ‘movie’ – The summer of 1967 in Detroit was marked by riots that eventually extended to other parts of the United States. Those were complicated times for the whole American society: the U.S. government had deepened its involvement in the Vietnam War, a disastrous venture for Americans which would eventually create grave fractures in the social fabric of their country. Amid that climate of an unpopular war, the old demands of an impoverished and discriminated black population were on the rise. Detroit ‘movie’ – The civil rights movement of the 1960s created a new consciousness among Blacks. Thus, when the city and the state responded to the protesting Blacks with repression, they would also react with defiance. Detroit ‘movie’
This moment of racial tension is the social climate captured by director Kathryn Bigelow and the screenwriter Mark Boal in “Detroit” a film being released this week in Montreal. The movie introduces the viewer with an interesting sequence of drawings in a naïf style, depicting first the migration of black people from the south to northern states in search of freedom and jobs during the 19th century. Then, it mentions another migration: that of whites to the suburbs in the mid-20th century leaving the city core to a growing black population, which in turn see their neighbourhoods decline and their own lives segregated. Not surprisingly, an overwhelmingly white police force would usually treat Blacks as a dispensable population subjected to all kinds of abuses. The most blatant episode of such treatment would occur when three blacks were murdered in cold blood by police agents at the Algiers Hotel. This episode is the central theme of the film.
The movie focuses on two main characters, Dismukes (John Boyega) who as a part-time private security guard finds himself in a sticky situation. He is black, but at the same time his role, although not equivalent to that of a police officer, gives him nevertheless some position of authority which is resented by fellow blacks and not entirely trusted by whites. As he would be present at the place where the killing of the young blacks took place, he would also suffer some the event’s consequences.
The other character is the then aspiring singer Larry (Algee Smith) who was expecting to perform with his band The Dramatics the night of the riots when the police suspended the show, and after his bus was stopped by the demonstrators, he was wandering downtown ending up at the Algiers Hotel. He would never expect that the place would become a trap for him, other black guests, and even two white girls. All of them would be rounded up after someone had shot with a start pistol at a group of national guards and police agents. Police officer Krauss (Will Poulter), who earlier that day had already fired his gun to a running black, would lead the interrogation with the fatal consequences that ensued.
The implications of the incident shook public opinion, but the judicial verdict regarding the killings was also the expected one in those days.
“Detroit” is a very powerful indictment of racism as it was so prevalent in those days in the United States. I should add that a solid and convincing performance by the main characters contributes to delivering what could well be one of the best movies of the season. Recommendable to those who like a serious drama based on historical events, and to anyone interested in learning more about one of the darkest moments in recent American history.
Length: 142 min.
Feature image: The riots of 1967 in Detroit showed a defiant black population