After an advance screening of the film Detroit, a patron asked how much of it was real and how much was just a movie. As a Detroit native, I felt like a lyric from Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”— “Telling my whole life with his words” — while watching director Kathryn Bigelow’s film, based on the real-life 1967 urban disturbance.
I was nearly a month away from starting my seventh grade school year when the week of July 23, 1967 occurred 50 years ago.
Bigelow focused on the Algiers Motel killings of three Blacks who were found dead, and nine people who were beaten there, reportedly at the hands of city police officers who were charged but found not guilty of all charges.
The director gave a disclaimer that it was a fictional account of the killing using research and other material, but I couldn’t help but dissect it for actual vs. cinematic effect. It was mostly filmed in Boston, and as a native of Detroit, I could clearly tell the difference in the action scenes from the archival ones sprinkled throughout the nearly three-hour film.
No spoiler alert here — the Blacks got killed by the racist White cops, who later got away with murder. And the post-movie thoughts gathered by the MSR afterwards were divided down racial lines:
Two White patrons who sat next to me called the movie “interesting” as they rushed out as soon as the closing credits rolled on the big screen.
“The injustices that were happening back then are still happening today,” said Patricia Adams of North Minneapolis. “Just like then, nobody today is being held accountable for anything that they are doing.”
Michael Adams of Brooklyn Park left the screening frustrated. “I didn’t know this was a true story. I wasn’t expecting a sad movie. Things that were happening back then are still happening now.”
The movie didn’t surprise her “but it isn’t any less heartbreaking or disappointing to see something that happened so many years ago be so relevant today,” said Schevita Persaud, of Minneapolis. “It’s almost like the same exact story.”
Bullock of Maple Grove said, “I think the movie itself shows our history [and] continued disappointment; nothing new. I feel like we’re still dealing with very similar situations today.”
Brittany’s husband, Turrion Bullock, added, “It definitely was emotional. A lot of emotions running from anger to disappointment to frustration. You don’t really know what to think or what to feel.”
Patricia Adams noted that filmgoers will get a good sense of what was happening in Detroit at the time, but emphatically said no when asked if she’d recommend it. She fears it will only “stir up things,” said the Northsider.
The Bullocks, however, did recommend Detroit, which opened nationwide to $7.3 million in North American ticket sales over the weekend.
“It was a good movie,” stated Brittany. Turrion added, “We need to see more of this. We need to be reminded of where we’ve been and where we still need to go.”
Persaud also recommend Detroit. “Absolutely. The movie brings about a different type of emotion than you would have from reading about the story.”
“I would highly recommend it,” said Michael Adams. “Fifty years from now they are going to be writing about what’s happening to us this year — making movies on what has been happening in the Twin Cities,” he predicted.
Finally, this native of Detroit isn’t pushing for Detroit the movie. It was too slow at times, and disjointed at others. Like Flack’s classic hit, the movie killed me softly while watching it because what happened those five days in the Motor City 50 years ago changed the city and me forever.
The movie comes across as more sensational than informative. It could’ve used more food for thought and featured different perspectives and context to better understand what happened and why 50 years ago.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.