As we watch much of our nation literally burn, once again, many movies dealing with the experience of being a Black American are finding their way to the forefront. Whether it’s Spike Lee’s epic return to Vietnam, in Da 5 Bloods, or the crackling dialogue of Blindspotting or the surreal horror of Get Out, many Americans are turning to movies to contextualize what they are watching in reality on the nightly news.
Whether it was released at just the wrong time or just didn’t have the right promotion, for some reason, Kathryn Bigelow’s 2017 historical epic Detroit doesn’t seem to be finding itself in the conversation. That’s a shame, because Detroit is a searing and sobering look at the forces that lead in a straight line to today’s unrest.
Detroit follows several characters as they navigate the dangerously chaotic landscape of the Detroit riots of 1967. This movie goes a long way toward explaining to those who continue to parrot the cliches, “just follow the officer’s instructions, and you’ll be fine.” or “if you aren’t a criminal, you have nothing to worry about.” Detroit paints a picture of a reality where being Black makes you a suspect and being Black puts you directly in danger of incarceration…or worse.
John Boyega plays security guard Melvin Dismukes, who thinks he can keep the peace by approaching both sides with level-headed reason. Algee Smith shines as Larry Reed, a member of up-and-coming soul act The Dramatics, who has to hunker down at the Algiers Motel while the riot rages outside. Finally, our main characters are rounded out by Krauss (Will Poulter) an angry and frightened Detroit Police officer who is quick-to-anger and finds violence as the simplest solution to most problems. Before long, a series of events brings Melvin, Larry, Kruss together and, unsurprisingly, tragedy occurs.
Bigelow’s attention to period detail and sense of building seething tension and dread are here in full-effect. The results are frustrating, maddening, horrifying, and ultimately incredibly effective at conveying the context of fear and danger between Black Americans and the police. The fact that the events depicted occurred over 40 years ago, not only reveals the on-going problem, but the reason for the immense distrust and anger that has built in many people’s hearts. Detroit is a must-watch in my book.