If white supremacists were looking for a modern-day film that they could study for best practices on how to torment, traumatize, and murder African Americans, then look no further than Hollywood’s latest debacle Detroit. Detroit is a movie that depicts the murder of three Black teenagers, Carl Cooper, 17, Fred Temple, 18, and Auburey Pollard, 19, by white Detroit police officers at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit Uprising (widely known as Race Riots). They were murdered, but several other Black men and two white women were held hostage and tortured. They attempted to cover it up, but the three white officers, David Senak, Ronald August, and Robert Paille, were charged with the murders and attempted cover up, but, to no one’s surprise (especially for those of us in 2017), they were completely exonerated. It must be noted that they never returned to active duty, but enjoyed their freedom to go home, which was a freedom not afforded to their victims. This story is one that is not widely known by most people, but came to be known as “The Algiers Motel Incident.”
This film, as I have stated elsewhere, is disappointing, to say the very least, and I do not recommend that anyone go and see it, especially African Americans. I already had my doubts going into it, but a group of us decided to experience it together anyhow. To add to the doubts, the director of the movie was Kathryn Bigelow, a white woman. This automatically disqualified her. Because for every, Hidden Figures (which had its problems), there are dozens of other movies telling Black people’s stories through the “white gaze,” which bastardizes it. She is an Oscar winning director, who is most famous for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. While I enjoyed The Hurt Locker, I refused to see Zero Dark Thirty. These were two movies, in my opinion, that capitalized on the time frame in which they were created and were released. The former focusing on the United States’ wars in the Middle East, and the latter dramatizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Bigelow did it again with Detroit, as there is heightened awareness surrounding police brutality and police killings of Black and Brown people in the United States over the past few years.
This heightened awareness was an opportunity that Bigelow and company utterly squandered, and for what? It didn’t add to the social commentary in any transformative way. It did not offer any glimmer of hope. It did not challenge anyone’s thinking. And it tried over and over to justify itself, without any merit to back justification up. It was hollow, empty, a shell that sucked the life out of the audience.
There was no time to even breath and digest, as the movie began in a problematic manner. It correctly labels the bar, where an afterhours celebration was taking place on July 23, 2017 for soldiers returning home from the Vietnam War, “unlicensed.” But it does so without any context or explanation. The bar was “unlicensed” because African Americans were often denied liquor licenses then. Maybe the audience was supposed to infer this, but it doesn’t work well with the movie set up, as the next scenes are the beginnings of the Uprising (identified as riots) are immediately follow this crack down. As the bar attendees are rounded up like cattle into the police vans headed to jail, the 12th Street residents begin throwing things at the police and shouting. While, I understand the deep anger, these scenes unexplained and without context depict the Black residents as mad that this “illegal” bar and party was stopped, rather than the brutality and overreach that was typical of the Detroit Police Department. The audience is literally dropped in the middle of the chaos and angst and left to pick up the pieces. Things only get worse from that point.
The rest of the movie is literally an experience of re-traumatization for all African Americans. It devolves into two long hours of Black pain, suffering, and misery with no compass/direction towards something more. Hence, the opening line of this review. It proliferated our suffering, once again, to the public. Many people might applaud this film and talk about its timeliness in a positive way, but I will have to unfortunately vehemently disagree with them. I would also have to question whether they are desensitized to Black suffering. A few months ago, I personally made the decision to no longer (at least for a while) watch the videos that showed our mistreatment, abuse, and murder at the hands of police officers, specifically white. I did so for the very reason I believe that people will be okay with this film and its relentless images of Black bodies being slain and tortured.
I don’t know what the intended purpose was behind this film seeing the light of day, but it reinforces the pain of African Americans with hopelessness abound!