Amid the recent events regarding police brutality in the U.S., Kathryn Bigelow commemorates the 50th anniversary following the Detroit riots and the Algier’s Motel police shootings with her newest release: the almost documentarian retelling, Detroit.
The question is why commemorate this infamous riot now? Why not commemorate on the 40th or the 45th anniversary? The answer is that the film is received much more sensitively in 2017 due to an ever-increasing statistic of violence committed by the police force against the African American community. There have been close to a thousand police shootings in the U.S., with over 10 thousand in the last decade. Most of the African Americans that were shot were not in possession of weapons, yet many shootings are considered by the services to be entirely justified. Placing the film in this context helps to construct a clear and prevalent message; racism has not been resolved, society is still conflicted and thus broken.
With the aforementioned documentarian style, the depiction of the riots and the shootings feels painfully real. The scene in the Algiers motel almost resembles something out of a horror film. As you stare at the now motionless victims, you could well think back to the videos of John Crawford or Walter Scott that were leaked all over social media. Nothing has changed. Some scenes were emotionally complex, and others left the cinema reeling from their tension. There is a prominent undercurrent of anger pumping throughout these moments though: despite the film recalling a moment in the past, memories of recent yet similar events such as the riots in Ferguson reveal that police brutality is far from being in the rear-view mirror, making the film fearfully relevant. As stated by journalist Wesley Lowery, ‘the nation’s grappling with race…was far from over.’.
There is also no escaping the consistent mention of the year during the film, not just to contextualise the film but to reflect how long it has been, and how long a time has been squandered to build upon the liberal foundations of society. The constant mention, is a constant reminder.
Then there is the fictionalised character Philip Krauss, played by Will Poulter, who, I think we can all agree, is the main cause of the audience’s deeply-embedded rage. Krauss is a representation of all that was wrong and is wrong with a number of the more racially conservative members of the police force. Fuelled by his discriminative ideologies and authoritarian desires, Krauss unapologetically murders Ralph Tresvant played by Jason Mitchell, using him as example of what happens when the police are disobeyed. While difficult to identify with, his character is vital and necessary. It was constables such as himself that were the very barrier to the enforcement of anti-racist laws following the work of civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s: subsequently, they were responsible for the mistrust that exists between citizens and the police force, and is still prominent even today.
In all its vividness, accuracy and the fact that most people leave feeling like angered emotional wrecks – well at least I was by the end of it – Detroit is definitely a film that is worth a watch. The film is cleverly executed by the director to ensure that the audience reacts, leaving the cinema feeling fed up with society’s failure to change as the time ticks by. It is a film with a real message at the right time.