Director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) knows how to make an impact on the big screen, and she does here, with “Detroit.”  It’s very difficult to watch, because it’s so emotionally wrenching. 

                The context is the race riots in Detroit in the summer of 1967.  But the focus is really on a specific incident that happened during the riots, on the night of July 25th.   There, some Detroit policemen, frustrated in their unsuccessful search for a suspected sniper, harassed, brutalized, and even committed murder, among an innocent group of people who happened to be staying in the Annex of The Algiers Hotel.

                Admittedly, it was a highly-charged atmosphere, so much so that the National Guard was called out to assist the police, and State troopers, as well.  But still, the stores burned and the looters ran wild and many angry citizens took to the streets to protest.  But of course that does not excuse the horrific behavior of the policemen involved, who were worse than any KKK, because they wore the badges, and had all the guns, and grossly abused their authority, because, sickeningly, they enjoyed doing it .(Will Poulter's portrayal is especially chilling.)

                Director Bigelow spends just enough time developing the characters that we viewers have an opportunity to get to know them.  Some of the hotel’s guests  were part of an aspiring singing group.  There was a returning Vietnam veteran, and some friends who were partying together.  Yes, there were a couple of white girls there, as well, and they, too, were caught in the systematic haranguing, and were singled out for disdain because they dared to associate with black men.

                There was a trial two years later, and the three policemen were acquitted.  The courtroom drama seems tame by comparison, but it’s obvious that even then, racist attitudes prevailed, and that, too, is hard to fathom this many years later, except that we all know that racial tensions still exist in America, even if, ostensibly, all are equal under the law.

                It’s not exactly a rallying cry for “Back The Blue.”  They are not portrayed in a positive light.  But Director Bigelow doesn’t attempt to paint all police with the same tainted brush; only these three.  And to see them act out their bigotry and hatred, because they can, is a traumatic thing to witness.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  If you were living in 1967, where were you when the riots took place, and what did you hear about them at the time?

2)                  If you weren't born before 1967, when and where did you learn about the Detroit riots?

3)                  What are some examples of racism still existing in the U.S. today?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association