"Survive the Night"
A Review of "Detroit" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Writer: Mark Boal, Starring: John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME!
The film "Detroit" takes place in the late 60's during the Detroit Rebellion. It is about cops playing judge and jury. It is about holding a mirror up to ourselves and seeing how far we've failed to travel. It is about three young African American men being murdered in cold blood at the Algiers Motel. It is about America and the grand experiment of democracy and social justice.
Earlier this year, I took my mother to the Seattle Art Museum. She was in town visiting from Oklahoma and I was looking for an excuse to play tourist in my adopted hometown. When we visited, SAM was featuring a collection called "The Migration Series" by Jacob Lawerance. At the time, the series of paintings helped me understand the migration of African Americans from the south to the industrial centers of the north. They helped me further understand the challenges that laid behind and before them. Much to my surprise, some of these paintings were used to open this film; setting the stage perfectly for the powder keg that was about explode.
This film is divided into three acts: riots, Algiers Motel, and the trial/aftermath. The riots were about a rebellion and a city at war. Years of unfair housing policies and working conditions mixed with white police officers hiding behind their badges and using it as a shield for racism sets off a violent uprising which becomes next to impossible to contain.
The riots quietly blend into a scene where the film spends the bulk of its time. On the inside, is innocence and young adults minding their own business. On the outside is a war zone with grudge matches between the National Guard, Michigan State Police, Detroit Police Department, and those leading the resistance. Mistakingly thinking a sniper is on top of the Algiers Motel, these two groups meet when policing forces begin rounding people up looking for the sniper that never was.
These scenes are a microcosm. They give you a perfect picture of why distrust exists between African American communities and those meant to serve and protect. As the cops look for evidence, they torture, intimidate, belittle, and unload hell. Without a doubt, these are the most frustrating and infuriating moments of the entire film. It will leave you questioning the evil men do to each other and praying that every victim on the screen can survive the night.
The final act comes abruptly and takes place in and outside the courtroom. After witnessing such injustice and lack of due process, your American heart will hope that this stage will set things right. If you are an African American, you are probably more than used to what comes next. It left me angry and hungry for a system truly resembling some sense of equality.
Ultimately, "Detroit," asks us to watch this story and make comparisons to our modern world. When I left the theater, I felt like I had a better understanding of what Black Lives Matter is fighting for with their protests. I also felt compelled to take the film further and have deep conversations with some of my African American friends. I realized we all need more of these interactions between races. We as white Americans need to have more instances where we just sit and listen. If we truly want the promise of America to be realized, then we need to do more listening and this movie proves it.
Be good to each other,