While watching Detroit in cinemas, I was astounded with the important message that is expressed through the film.
I walked in with a brief understanding that Detroit is a city in Michigan riddled with crime and a shady history of racial discrimination and riots. I had no idea just how awful the situation was or any of the major events that impacted the calamity of this racial battle.
In a short and concise review, Detroit is a highly tense, harrowing and realistic film revolving around the true events of the Algier’s Motel Incident in 1967. It boasts an amazing cast, a phenomenal script, a great director and almost flawless editing. The film also emphasises the realism of the situation, utilising handheld cameras and lack of music to put you in the scene.
Easily the best thing about Detroit was how impactful the film was. I left the cinema contemplating about almost everything in the movie, how people were capable of this level of abuse to others, as well as how people had to live through the injustice and racial bias on a day to day basis.
While it is essential to review this movie, I think that it’s also just as crucial to discuss some of the reasons why Detroit is an important film.
1. It brings attention to the atrocious racial abuse and discrimination that occurred.
Arguably the most obvious one, it’s also the most important one. We live in a world where we have less racism from what it was like half a century ago. We get the ability to live in a society that’s diverse, accepting and open to everyone. And it’s almost unimaginable how it must’ve felt being part of the minority in such a hateful era.
Now, it is a given that racial discrimination is still very prevalent in today’s society. With horrific cases of attacks and violence featuring in the news almost every day, it’s easy for people to associate blame with specific races or cultures. I’ll talk more about this point later on, but it’s still pivotal to note that racism is something that has happened, and is still happening in society.
It really is a shame that we still need to have heavy discussions like these after more than 50 years on.
Kathryn Bigelow takes the racial tension that was occurring during the time period and illustrates all the repercussions that come from this inequality. The riots, the violence, the injustice, Detroit was a city overrun with hatred and vengeance. And we can understand how this harmful mentality can destroy everyone.
2. Detroit prompts us to take action and be active bystanders.
There’s a scene in the film that really disturbed me. Without spoiling too much, a group of characters learn of something awful, something that they could have easily intervened, but simply choose not to because they wouldn’t want to be associated with it.
If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
While it is rather cliché, there are only two parts in a problem: the problem itself and the solution. Even if you didn’t have the power or courage to fight a battle that isn’t yours, the least you could do was call for help. If you can’t pipe up and defend the victims, then you’re no better than the rogue perpetrators causing the violence.
That’s something I thoroughly appreciated with this film, a contention that people have the power to make a difference in a situation, and they have the choice to make things better or worse. They can choose to be selfless and caring, or they can opt out to feed the flames. Detroit shows us the atrocities that can occur as a result of people’s irresponsibility.
3. It illustrates the impact this divide has on everyone.
Stepping away from all the violence that erupted, the aggression affected much more than just people’s safety. Bigelow wisely chose to incorporate certain characters’ personal life, showing how the tension was able to influence a person’s family or even their future.
‘Black Lives Matter’ is a term used in America to protest against police brutality and empowering the minority. It’s very evident, and very distressing, in this movie to see the state police abuse these minorities without any regard for their wellbeing. This mentality is both heartless and ignorant. Detroit takes its time to feature family members grieving for their murdered children. And I can say firsthand that it is extremely heart-wrenching and upsetting to watch.
It still astonishes me that this level of discrimination and brutality actually occurred in our human history.
The Dramatics are an American soul group that was also caught up in the Detroit riots. We learn a lot through them about their passion in music, and how they pursue their career in the show business. When one of the members gets caught up in the Algiers’ Incident in 1967, we see him spiral out of control as he tries to come to terms with the traumatic incident.
The emphasis on how this violence impacted everyone goes a long way in showing the extent of how awful the situation was. It illustrates the heavy consequences that come from all this hate and racism, as well as how important it is to understand how not to contribute to that hate.
4. Detroit shows us that everyone is responsible for the violence and anger.
It’s a given that Detroit is a harrowing film with sadistic antagonists that benefit from a biased judicial system. And as someone who finds fulfilment in seeing people get what they deserve, this movie really tested my tolerance for this injustice. But the film does an impressive job at understanding that the situation was not purely black and white. It wasn’t something as simple as one group hating on another group.
The scapegoating and aggression shown towards African Americans resulted in violent riots and protests that caused havoc in Detroit. These outbreaks only cemented their racist mindsets towards each other’s race, and only resulted in more hate and built-up anger. It isn’t just one group that causes problems, the aggression was a never-ending cycle of violence.
It’s easy to put blame on someone else and victimise them, but taking responsibility for our own actions is important in ensuring that this ideology of anger is not passed on. In one scene, Conyers, a black Congressman at the time, even urges his community to not resort to violence and anger as it will only deteriorate the situation.
5. Detroit also reminds us that there is still goodness in humanity.
The world isn’t full of superficial tyrants or criminals, there’s always a majority of hopeful, kind and caring people who still possess humanity. Thankfully, I was pleased to see that Bigelow was even able to capture some of the innocent people involved that helped out during this incident. It’s nice to see some selfless beings after being forced into a claustrophobic and tense scene for half the movie.
Like what I said before, this movie isn’t just black and white. In reality, the line between is often blurred. But taking this into a more optimistic light, there are still an abundance of caring bystanders who can easily disregard one’s race for their safety or wellbeing.
It’s important in times like this when we shouldn’t let a few bad eggs define an entire race or culture. It’s too easy to stereotype people based on their culture, or their race, and this movie is a good reminder of how this kind of mentality could explode into something as big and disastrous as the Detroit riots.
I walked in expecting heartfelt drama, but walked out with my heart pounding and my palms clamming with sweat.
Overall, I’m vastly impressed with Kathryn Bigelow’s incredibly tense movie. It’s perfectly acted, well-written, and carries a powerful message about racism that is still very relevant in this modern era. It’s an important movie that not only puts its audiences in the scene of a horrific incident, but also discusses prominent themes that about the way society views different races and our responsibility to find peace in an otherwise violent world.