“HOW CAN BLACK AMERICA EVER FORGIVE WHITE AMERICA?”
Rated R , Runtime 143 minutes
Immediately following the Las Vegas press screening of DETROIT, I asked my two guests a troubling question. Still inside the theater auditorium I said, “How can Black America ever forgive White America?” Their response was not surprising: “We can’t!” Their response saddened me, acknowledging the enormous weight of our history filled with slavery, brutality and discrimination. It is an inconvenient truth that some of us wrestle with; while others continue to deny.
DETROIT is a chilling horror story. While at first you think you will be watching the out of control burning of Detroit from years of racial discrimination — you soon discover that the real name of this movie is THE ALGIERS MOTEL. For it is here that the tragic horror is played out.
Watching Academy Award winning film director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal will be a challenge for any member of the audience. DETROIT is actually two different movies. On the one hand it brings us back to the Detroit riots of 1967. For me, it was personal. Living in Minneapolis and having graduated from North High in 1965, I had watched the looting and burning in 1967 of the Plymouth Avenue businesses district in the North Side neighborhood that I grew up in. Over the previous five years, the many synagogues and Jewish businesses had already moved out to the suburbs. Gone forever were the markets and drug stores; the barber shops, beauty salons, delicatessens, bowling alley and movie theater. So this movie became personal.
In his review for the Los Angeles Times, one of my journalist heroes — Justin Change, wrote the following: “Is this grueling, bruising, hard-to-watch movie something anyone needs to sit through? It’s a question that reveals less about the film’s ostensible agenda, I think, than it does about the inquirer’s default complacency .… What makes ‘Detroit’ vital is not that its images are new or revelatory, but rather that Bigelow and Boal have succeeded, with enviable coherence and tremendous urgency, in clarifying those images into art.”
Unfortunately, I disagree. I found the last third of the movie to be too long and drawn out. Absent from the screenplay was the “soul” of the Black man. Absent from the screenplay was the “faith” of the Black man. And the role of the Black woman was entirely absent from the entire film.
Although much of the story at the Algiers Motel is fictional, the police beating of nine people including two women and the murder of three young Black men is undisputable. DETROIT is not a perfect movie, but is worth seeing to beg the question, “Has America changed much in 50 years?” That is for you to decide.