In 'Detroit,' Bigelow re­vis­its still-burn­ing flames of 1967

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Kathryn Bigelow hasn't for­got­ten the out-of-body ex­pe­ri­ence she felt when she won the best di­rec­tor Academy Award for her 2009 "The Hurt Locker." At that mo­ment, she be­came the first woman to win the award. None have been nom­i­nated since. "The gen­der in­equity that ex­ists in the in­dus­try, I thought it would maybe be the be­gin­ning of that in­equity not be­ing quite so pro­nounced," said Bigelow in a re­cent in­ter­view. "Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case. And I don't know why that is. I just don't know. But I sort of feel like on be­half of all the women who might yearn to tell chal­leng­ing, rel­e­vant, topical, en­ter­tain­ing sto­ries -that I was stand­ing there for them. And that em­bold­ened me."

Bold­ness is not a fleet­ing qual­ity for Bigelow. Since "The Hurt Locker," she has, with the re­porter-turned-screen­writer Mark Boal, con­tin­ued to craft an am­bi­tious, in­trepid kind of cin­ema that mar­ries vis­ceral big-screen im­mer­sion with deeply re­searched jour­nal­ism. Their pre­vi­ous col­lab­o­ra­tion, the Osama bin Laden-hunt thriller "Zero Dark Thirty," proved an un­par­al­leled flash­point in both Hol­ly­wood and Wash­ing­ton, prompt­ing de­bates over its rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the role tor­ture played in the man­hunt. "I'm the mes­sen­ger. I didn't in­vent the mes­sage," she said. "I'm just com­pelled to make these chal­leng­ing pieces. And I'm com­pelled by sto­ries that are in­for­ma­tional, that tell you what you didn't know go­ing in - that I didn't know go­ing in." Her lat­est film, "Detroit" is a no-less chal­leng­ing dive into the vi­o­lent soul of Amer­ica, but this time, she's on the home front.

Fire and fury

The film, also from a script from Boal, is about the Algiers Mo­tel in­ci­dent, a rel­a­tively lit­tle-re­mem­bered event that took place amid the 1967 Detroit ri­ots - an up­ris­ing sparked by a po­lice raid of an af­ter-hours club - and a re­ac­tion to a long his­tory of op­pres­sion of the city's African-Amer­i­cans. The ri­ots, among the largest in US his­tory, left 43 dead and led to the de­ploy­ment of thou­sands of na­tional guards­man to a Detroit that raged in fire and fury.

"Detroit" seeks to show the his­tor­i­cal con­text and in­di­vid­ual re­al­ity of the ri­ots, which many say should be called a "re­bel­lion." Within the chaos was the par­tic­u­larly heinous act at the Algiers Mo­tel. Three un­armed black males were killed in an en­counter with po­lice and nine oth­ers (seven of them black) were beaten and ter­ror­ized. Three of­fi­cers were charged with mur­der, as well as other crimes, but found not guilty. Boal ap­proach Bigelow about mak­ing a film about the in­ci­dent shortly af­ter a St. Louis County grand jury de­cided not to in­dict po­lice of­fi­cer Dar­ren Wil­son, whose fa­tal shoot­ing of Michael Brown prompted the protests in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri. The rel­e­vance of the tale, Bigelow said, fu­eled her mo­ti­va­tion for mak­ing it.

"There was some­thing sadly, trag­i­cally con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous about this story," Bigelow said. "How can this con­ver­sa­tion hap­pen in a mean­ing­ful way, is what I walk away ask­ing. I'm just telling this story in as au­then­tic and truth­ful and hon­est a way as we could given the in­for­ma­tion that is out there." The story for Boal be­gan with Cleve­land Larry Reed. Dur­ing the ri­ots, Reed (played by Al­gee Smith in the film) was an 18-year-old singer in the Dra­mat­ics, an upand-com­ing Mo­town group whose con­cert was can­celed that night. He and an­other band­mate bunkered down at the Algiers, only to find them­selves swept into a night­mare. Reed, who met with Boal and later with Smith, never re­cov­ered from the or­deal; he gave up pro­fes­sional mu­sic, singing in­stead in church choirs.

Ev­ery­one stopped

"In the sum­mer of 2014, I was drawn to this story af­ter meet­ing Larry Reed and hear­ing him re­count what had hap­pened to him 50 years ago, and then, later on, hear­ing from other sur­vivors of the Algiers," Boal wrote in an email. "My idea for the movie was driven from the start by real peo­ple, be­ing moved by the fine-grained par­tic­u­lars of what they went through." Smith, a 22-year-old ac­tor from Sag­i­naw, Michi­gan, de­scribed the set as a pro­foundly emo­tional one where the cast merely needed to "log onto our so­cial me­dias for in­spi­ra­tion." "We were shoot­ing a movie about his­tory but it felt like to­day," he said.

He and other ac­tors play­ing the ter­ror­ized vic­tims weren't given scripts for much of the pro­duc­tion so that their re­ac­tions of shock and hor­ror were more gen­uine. "She wanted us to have a to­mor­row's-not-promised type of mind­set," Smith said. "We just got there and then the first day it was just to­tal chaos. It was: 'Put your hands on the wall.' Scream­ing. I'm get­ting light-headed be­cause I'm breath­ing so hard in be­tween takes. It was emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally drain­ing ev­ery day for those first two weeks. Will Poul­ter (who plays the ring­leader of­fi­cer) broke down on set. In the mid­dle of a scene, he just started cry­ing. The whole set just stopped. Ev­ery­one stopped. Will went out­side and I put my arm around him but I just started cry­ing too."

Some may say "Detroit" is a story that ought to have been told by black film­mak­ers. Bigelow, who has spent her ca­reer ei­ther ig­nor­ing or ex­plod­ing gen­der stereo­types, un­der­stands such crit­i­cism. "Am I the per­fect per­son to tell that story? Ab­so­lutely not," Bigelow said. "But I felt hon­ored to tell this story. It's a story that's been out of cir­cu­la­tion for 50 years. And if it can en­cour­age a con­ver­sa­tion about race in this coun­try, I would find that ex­tremely en­cour­ag­ing and im­por­tant." Her films, she said, are about cre­at­ing em­pa­thy and, hope­fully, di­a­logue. Ear­lier this year, she codi­rected an eight-minute vir­tual-re­al­ity film about park rangers in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of the Congo, "The Pro­tec­tors: Walk in the Rangers' Shoes." "In­sti­tu­tion­al­ized racism is at the heart of the piece," Bigelow said of "Detroit." "I think the pur­pose of art is to ag­i­tate for change. But you can't change any­thing un­less you're aware of it."

This im­age re­leased by An­na­purna Pic­tures shows a scene from "Detroit."

In this Nov 9, 2013 file photo, di­rec­tor Kathryn Bigelow ac­cepts the "John Sch­lesinger Bri­tan­nia Award for Ex­cel­lence in Di­rect­ing" dur­ing the 2013 BAFTA Los Angeles Bri­tan­nia Awards in Bev­erly Hills, Calif. — AP pho­tos

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.