The Unsettling Truth About 'Detroit'
By: Amy Cooper, ACRONYM
For those of you who know me personally, you are aware I went off the deep end on Tuesday, July 25. I even received voicemails saying that my statuses had been "emotional roller coasters," and for those who saw what I wrote when I got out of the movie 'Detroit,' you know I was completely wrecked and broken hearted.
When I left the Kathryn Bigelow movie, I felt like I'd been stabbed in the gut. Tortured, even. But not physically like the characters that Algee Smith and Jacob Latimore played, but emotionally and mentally.
Yes, I will admit fully, as I had been called out in many nasty ways that I was uneducated when it came to the riots of Detroit in 1967. I knew they existed, I knew that it had been 50 years this week since the riots happened and that most of the social and economic issues that Detroit is finally starting to overcome stemmed from being rocked by this tragedy, but as far as the incident at the Algiers Motel, I was completely in the dark.
Now, don't misinterpret this expression as me saying the movie was bad. It was great. It was a very moving, stomach turning, war film that Bigelow, cast, and crew put together. And falling into 1967 from your seat to the screen, it was easy to forget where you were while watching it. For me, I was sitting in the historic Fox Theatre, right in the heart of Downtown Detroit at the World Premiere. But man, did I forget for a while.
I won't tell you the story for a play-by-play, and initially, I was going to review and recount the premiere itself, and also the movie. But once the screen-capped images of the "Where Are They Now's" occurred, I bolted out of the theatre. In all the years I've spent running around Detroit, shooting photos in abandoned buildings, creating with other individuals of the place I loved so much, and trying to champion a piece of Detroit in my own weird way, I was afraid walking back to Grand River to get my car.
The movie is full of many racial tellings, and 99% of them shows the discrimination of African Americans, which is all true to history, and of the times. But what disturbed me more than anything else was how much this has not changed in the world - and it destroyed me. The movie I watched on the screen depicted the same types of trauma that you would see in the Ferguson Riots. Cops killing innocent black people like Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Philando Castile. In my mind, it juxtaposed the memories of those who were killed by the racist cops depicted in the movie.
I cried a lot. Not at first, I think I was in shock. But once I got home, I sobbed. I thought of all of the people recently who had lost their lives. Those who had been innocents. Their families, who are left with a gaping hole because someone's prejudice was so strong, that their lives were taken for granted. And it made me hate the world, and all the people in it. Especially because I know as one person, I cannot change these things.
I understand that many will note that the riots of Detroit, as well as the other riots we've seen, have had residents tearing down their own neighborhoods in some form of protest. I understand that the reactions to events like this don't make sense, that to destroy their own homes is counter-productive. But looking at the bigger picture, the racism of the time, it still lives on today.
I am constantly finding myself ashamed for being associated with white racists just because of the color of my skin. I have friends who are heavily tattooed that have been labeled skinheads because of the way they look, without a word from them. But none of that compares to the racial injustice that black people have been faced with all of these years, and continue to be subjected to today.
The point I'm getting to is this: 'Detroit' is going to cause you to want to have a conversation. At first, I was afraid that maybe a riot would occur. And who knows, as I write this on Friday, July 28, the day that the film is slated to release, there still could be. But this movie is going to cause a lot of emotions.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said on the red carpet that "this is a part of our history." This is one I'll note that doesn't get taught in schools, which I think is a terrible lapse of the education system. But looking at it from that perspective, if you are not made aware of the historical relevance of these incidents and remain ignorant, you are doomed to repeat it for not learning the lessons it teaches.
Obviously, within history, we have many people who haven't learned from these tragedies and patterns of war, and the dictatorships of old that parallel the ones we see today, even in our own government. The same goes for the Detroit Riots. If we aren't careful, the right push could cause everything that has been repaired in the city to fall apart again. People don't like that notion and will act like that's a dramatic interpretation, but looking at the world, it's entirely possible.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University, and a Detroit Native, also stopped everyone's commentary when introducing Bigelow to the stage, on why did a "white woman" have to tell this story, versus a black director. He defended Bigelow, posing the question "Can she use and leverage her white privilege to identify with black and brown people who are demonized? Isn't that the ultimate use of deconstructing white privilege to identify with those who are nameless and faceless in this society?" The answer is a resounding yes. Because even though many years it's been expressed by countless African Americans, if a white woman makes an award-winning movie, a contender for Oscars, maybe, just maybe, some of these 1%ers and bigots will actually be exposed to something with substance.
Despite the fact that I basically lost it for a few days and fell apart because I felt powerless, I know I can't save the world. I am just one person. After the full discussion on social media that I had with friends, one told me that we were always going to be outnumbered by people of varying degrees of racism, and we weren't going to be able to change other people. He said, "If we change ourselves then that's all the change we need to do."
With that in mind, I call you to see 'Detroit.' The film will make you feel raw. It will drain you of energy. It will keep you on the edge of your seat, and it will make you feel "some kind of way." You may not react how I did, or be as moved as I was, but the fact that you're making a point to see it means you are willing to see, period. We need to realize in this country that hate is not the answer. And in the end, the only thing standing in our way is ourselves.