Bigelow ex­plores a hor­rific his­tory

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

There is no nice or pretty way to tell a story about the sys­temic op­pres­sion and mis­treat­ment of black peo­ple in the United States. It’s fit­ting then that Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, an ac­count of the mur­ders of three un­armed black men that took place in the Al­giers Mo­tel in late July 1967, is an all-out as­sault on your senses and soul.

It’s hard to over­state just how vis­ceral and har­row­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence it is.

Detroit is a well-made and evoca­tive film that is also numb­ingly bru­tal with lit­tle to no re­prieve. And while it might be the only true way to tell this story, it’s also one that is not go­ing to be for ev­ery­one.

To set the stage for the Al­giers Mo­tel, Bigelow be­gins by speed­ing through the his­tory of black peo­ple in the US with an­i­mated acrylics and pound­ing mu­sic eman­ci­pa­tion, the great mi­gra­tion, white flight and the racist zon­ing prac­tices that led to the over­crowd­ing of black res­i­dents in ur­ban pock­ets. Ten­sions have al­ready reached a tip­ping point, and then in the sum­mer of 1967, Detroit po­lice bust an af­ter-hours club in what would be­come the in­cit­ing in­ci­dent for the ri­ots.

Three days af­ter the ri­ots begin, a lo­cal sing­ing group called The Dra­mat­ics are about to go on stage at a big, crowded theater hop­ing to get their big break but are in­ter­rupted and sent home due to the events out­side.

The charis­matic lead singer Larry and his buddy Fred de­cide to peel off and get an $11 room at the Al­giers and wait out the night. There they meet two white party girls, a veteran, Greene, and a provo­ca­teur, Carl, who plays around with a starter pis­tol that even­tu­ally catches the at­ten­tion of the po­lice in the area. The of­fi­cers, who we’ve al­ready learned are rot­ten, storm the mo­tel on the hunt for the sniper they pre­sume is there.

Bigelow col­lab­o­rated again with screen­writer Mark Boal on Detroit, which is per­fectly evoca­tive of this spe­cific time and place but lack­ing the per­spec­tive and il­lu­mi­na­tion that one might hope a 50-year-old event would war­rant.

Per­haps they wanted to leave con­clu­sions and in­ter­pret­ing to the au­di­ence, and as the film notes at the end, no one knows for cer­tain what hap­pened in the Al­giers Mo­tel. Some of the scenes were pieced to­gether and imag­ined by the film­mak­ers.

Also very lit­tle in­sight is given to the vic­tims’ lives out­side of this event. Maybe that’s not the point, though. Maybe anger is all you’re sup­posed to feel when you step out­side the theater. Maybe not feel­ing sat­is­fied with Detroit is the point.

This was Amer­ica, you think. This is still Amer­ica. And the movies can’t offer a res­o­lu­tion that his­tory hasn’t.

Kathryn Bigelow poses for her film ZeroDarkThirty in New York. REUTERS

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