Films August 3, 2017
Please educate America on racism, Mark and Katheryn.
Last night’s screening of “Detroit” brought Katheryn Bigelow’s latest film to my university. Before I went to the screening, I’d called my grandmother and mentioned that I was going to see it. My grandmother, who is 79, and was a first-hand witness to the civil rights movement, said she was going to skip it. “I don’t think it’s a good time for this movie,” she said. I understood what she meant to be this: This movie might make racist people angry.
Instead, I opted to give to the film a chance anyway. I couldn’t ignore the critical acclaim Oscar winner Bigelow has received. So I shuffled to the largest theatre on campus and settled into my seat. The lights went down over our heads and descended us all into collective, ominous darkness. And what proceeded was the most effusively vapid display of erroneous white liberalism that I have seen in several years.
(Not the use of Jacob Lawrence paintings, or the elementary school level explanation of The Great Migration. That was bearable. The Rebellions around the United States at the time were actually called rebellions instead of their more common moniker, riots.)
No, the problem with the beginning of the film was the officers walking into the after-hours club above the Economy Printing Company. They were led by a black officer, who took an undercover black officer into an adjacent room and pretended to beat him.
Then, the officers hurriedly crowded the patrons into paddy wagons as an angry mob encroached on them for no apparent reason. They didn’t particularly beat anyone. The most offensive thing is an officer putting his hands on a woman’s ass as he hoists her into a vehicle. It goes unseen by the mob.
Yet, the mob is furious for SOME unidentified reason. This is when the 1967 Detroit riots begin. And thus starts two and a half hours of regular, uneducated white people sitting in a room talking about police brutality and black history.
The speaking feels little more than a “minority bid” for the Oscars on the wings of films like “Selma.” It appropriates black history and cultures and subjects its audiences to abuses in order to “educate” them. But the film is a jumble of stances on why brutality occurs.
It provides the villains in this film in the form of a few “bad” cops while the other police and national guardsmen are understated heroes and the black characters are simply victims. This film is built in much the same way America was built, on the backs of minority agony with the White Superior Race in charge.
The “worst” cop, who shoots down black men like he’s shooting down zombies from “The Walking Dead,” says that they’ve (the White Superior Race) allowed this to happen. He’s just killed someone, which his superior is aware of. But he’s sent back out on the street and told to “keep a lid” on his racist homicidal mania directly after being told he may be charged with murder.
Aside from the group of four bad white cops that drive around the black areas of the city in an unmarked vehicle hunting Negros with shotguns, all the other white people are flabbergasted bystanders to the violence. At one point, during the depiction of the murders and torture at the Algiers Motel, a national guardsman leaves the house and says, “They’re doing some torture stuff to those Negros in there.”
This drew one of many audible bursts of laughter from the audience. Another came when our gospel singing protagonist flees the home and a cop finds him, sinks down and says, verbatim, “How could someone do this to another person?”
Every black person in the audience knew DAMN WELL how someone could do this to another person. If I wanted to see black people murdered for no reason I would go online and watch Philando Castille or Terence Crutcher once again.
Katheryn Bigelow’s Detroit attempts to depict the atrocity committed at the Algiers Motel and the officers’ subsequent acquittal as an incident that lay in the hearts of a few evil men. That is a dangerous philosophy. Police brutality, murder and hate crimes are products of a system that engenders economic and thus racial inequality, separateness and violence.
The superiors in Detroit’s police department would not have been shocked at the conduct of officers. The national guard was releasing dogs and water hoses on protestors the country over. They would not have been surprised.
There is a scene in which the first murder victim at the hotel is seemingly threatening people in the room with a small pistol that turns out to be a starter pistol for races. To “teach the pigs a lesson” he fires that pistol out of the window toward national guardsmen a few streets away.
The starter pistol was NEVER found. A title card at the end of the film tells us. And shooting erupts slightly down the street from the Algiers Motel while the people inside are being murdered. To the point that all the officers go outside to look for the threat. The starter pistol is barely mentioned after it’s been used to sufficient dramatic affect. Which begs that question: Why was it there in the first place?
The arrest of Boyega’s character Melvin is covered, but his subsequent release and acquittal for participation in the beatings is not addressed. Nor is that alleged participation depicted in the film.
Hannah Murray (Gilly of “Game of Thrones”) portrays one of two white women present. They are used most frequently to incite a fear that they’ll be raped. Her big line is, “I don’t see color.” Which could probably explain the mistaken philosophy of this film’s entire creative team.
All of the other actors, with the exception of Algee, were just there for a beating.
Claustrophobic cinematography mired the audience in an abusively intimate view of strife and death. This “cautionary tale” is absolutely tone deaf and it left me shaken. No one should pay money to go see this film.
It is a detriment to the progressive tract of African American cinema. And in fact, depending on your definition of AA cinema, is not even that. It is rather a filmic iteration of minstrel shows with men in blackface that black audiences were invited to pay to see.
But those shows, like this film, were blatantly by and for white people. When the main character joins the choir (because there’s a whole “Don’t lose the music, Larry” storyline) the first song he sings begins with the film’s 100 millioneth focus rack as the first word to slip through his lips is “master.”
If you know nothing about racism or African American people, do not have the audacity to attempt to explain it… to anyone. Instead of watching “Detroit” read about oppression and systemic racism and injustice. It would do everyone a greater deal of good.
I couldn’t sleep until 3 a.m. with the same feelings I’d had walking around next to people clad in Confederate flag shirts. The feeling I had when Philando Castille’s murderer was acquitted.
The complete disregard for African Americans as people. Fred Temple, Aubrey Pollard and Carl Cooper were not just victims. They were sons who never went home.
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