“Detroit” – 50 Years Later, More Relevant Than Ever

Detroit movie poster

Power tends to corrupt and

absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

-Lord Acton

Based on a true story, director Kathryn Bigelow, known for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, presents her latest movie Detroit. Set in the city that brought the world the musical gift of Motown, Detroit not only tells the background of the 1967 riots spurred by a police raid of an illegal after-hours bar, but gives a horrific play-by-play of the police response at the Algiers Motel.

The city of Detroit essentially became a war zone that July of ’67. Stores were looted, buildings were intentionally set ablaze, and crowds of African-Americans, who’d had enough of being treated like second-class citizens by the racist police force, took to the streets with a vengeance. It was pure chaos, and the police force was so overwhelmed that Governor Romney had to call in the state police and the Michigan Army National Guard to enforce mandatory curfews while President Johnson had to send in two Airborne Divisions to squash the insurrection.

Detroit 1967 riots

When police heard shots coming from the annex of the Algiers Motel, they raided it, discovering several young black men along with two young white women. The police brutality that ensued can only be described as pure evil.

Even though it’s based on a true story, I digress in giving any more background to what transpired at the Algiers Motel because I believe you need to see it for yourself. Prior to the release of Detroit, I didn’t know anything about the riots. One might wonder, “It happened fifty years ago so why drudge up the past now? Does it matter anymore?” Yes. It absolutely still matters.

Detroit 1967

The movie, thought-provoking and intense, flooded my brain with so many deep questions:

  • Yes, the police were under extreme duress, but did that give them the right to act unethically? Of course not! Not all members of the Detroit police force were racist or rotten to the core, so what was it that made some police officers uphold their promises to protect and serve while some of their counterparts felt they had the right to commit acts of atrocity simply because they were white with authority?
  • If the police had entered the Algiers Motel, and discovered two black women with a group of white men, would their response have been different?

The biggest take-away from the film for me personally was that it made me really think about our nation’s racist past, and made me analyze the racial tensions that still exist today. Racism, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, remains a systemic problem in our country in terms of police response and incarceration. The purpose of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie may have been to bring up the past, but because some of the things that happened that fateful night at the Algiers Motel still go on today, such as planting evidence, one can’t help but think about our country’s present state in terms of police relations with young black men.

Detroit 1967

I’m white so I would never dream of trying to suggest that seeing this movie made me understand the mistrust of the police force that some African-Americans still feel, but Detroit gave me powerful insight into how black people are sometimes viewed as guilty just because they’re black, and how it’s on them to prove their innocence rather than for the police to prove their guilt. It was heart-wrenching to watch, and I cried watching how powerless the victims at the Algiers Motel were.

Detroit movie
John Boyega played real life security guard Melvin Dismukes.

In most of my movie reviews, I take the time to discuss the cinematography, the cast and the quality of their performances, and other important elements, but I’ll summarize all of it with one word. Flawless. I especially appreciated how Bigelow weaved real footage from the riots into the fabric of the film.

My father, who remembers the 1967 riots, attended the movie with me, and was equally moved, disturbed, and shaken by Detroit. He shared, “It was riveting to revisit such egregious racism and to realize our country really hasn’t moved forward.” My father remarked how infuriating it was to watch the state police, National Guard, and paratroopers literally walk away from the Algiers Motel after witnessing first hand the abuse of power by the Detroit police.

My Dad added, “There was a period of time in the 1960s when African Americans began to use the expression ‘Black Power’ as a rallying cry to offset the injustice of life in America. This movie captures the true essence of ‘White Power’ at its most depraved level.”

Detroit movie
Will Poulter (left) played the most corrupt of the Detroit police officers while Anthony Mackie (right) played one of the young men at the Algiers Motel.

Movie times: click here

Genre:  Crime, Drama, History

Director:  Kathryn Bigelow

Actors: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie

Running Time: 2 hours 23 minutes

Rating:  Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language

 

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Resident, Educator, Military Spouse, and Mother. "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list." - Susan Sontag. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: manager@coronadotimes.com