I have to structure this review of the newly released film Detroit around the words and Divine Guidance given to us by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan published nearly five years ago when the movie Django Unchained released. In his interview with Dr. Boyce Watkins, Minister Farrakhan gave his detailed review and prophetic perspective about what he concerned himself with when watching this film. This was the filter by which I watched Detroit as well as other films that followed his interview.
In response to Dr. Boyce Watkins’ question about Minister Farrakhan’s take on the film Django Unchained, he responded stating, “I always try, Dr. Watkins, to ascertain ‘What is the motive of the writer? What is the motive of the producer?’ Not ‘What is the motive of the actor’, because actors as their job if they like the script, try to play the part. Every actor in that film, in my humble judgment, played their part. Now, looking at motives is what concerns me.”
Before setting out to see the movie Detroit, I re-familiarized myself with what took place during the Summer of 1967, not only in Detroit but in other cities experiencing unrest. I was particularly partial to the account detailed in The Final Call Newspaper, published by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, because of its unshakable track record of delivering uncompromised truth, especially when it comes to telling our story. The account expressed in the Final Call Newspaper was inclusive of quotes from those who were present during the uprisings of 1967 and details regarding the onset of the unrest. After my research, I bought my ticket and took my seat in the theater to see how this story would be told by Hollywood.
The beginning of the film is captioned with diluted language to describe the Black experience of injustice in a “bean shell” leading to 1967 uprising. Shortly after, it pans out to a party that is mentioned in various articles at an after-hours nightclub. Police raid this club and evacuate everyone inside through the front door to create a scene in front of the community. It is alluded that there wasn’t a liquor license to serve alcohol, therefore, just about everyone present was arrested and loaded into police cars. There were verbal protests of the arrests from bystanders, and then the police vehicles departed with many of the party-goers inside.
Then, all of a sudden it shows the bystanders loot and set fire to stores. Then, all of a sudden it became a war-zone. No exaggeration. It was quite obvious that major pieces of the story were missing. It depicted Black people as senseless and destructive for “no reason”. This was how the tone was set within the first 20 minutes. The remaining two hours got worse.
It flashed to scenes with police officers driving around harassing and beating those who lived in the community, some for just walking around in their own neighborhood. One of the first disturbing scenes was seeing the National Guard arrive with tanks. There was a little Black girl looking through the blinds of her window, when suddenly one of the guards yelled, “Sniper!” and several of them fired unceasingly into that window, where that little girl stood.
There were no real narratives, only randomly placed footage that seemed to be from that time repeating how out of control things were. It was made to appear as though the riots happened out of nowhere. Again, although some aspects were captioned in the very beginning, if you blinked you missed the fine printed “history lesson” of what sparked the rioting. Movie goers would have been lost if they failed to do research ahead of time. More visual and cinematic emphasis was placed elsewhere. What is the motive?
Things escalated from there when a White cop sees a Black man coming out of a grocery store with food. When he saw the police he began running. The cop shoots the brother in the back, severely wounding him. His partner checked him saying that they don’t shoot people who are looting. The cop replied that it was his way of sending a message to the others. Wow…doesn’t that sound familiar?
When the White cop returns to the police station a detective investigating the shooting questions him about it. The cop lies saying he knew nothing about a shooting. When caught in the lie, after it being revealed the Black man he shot later died, the detective recommended murder charges and for that cop to not return on patrol. That cop leaves and returns to the street against those instructions.
After shots were heard coming from the direction of the Algiers Motel, the troops storm the establishment, and for the next hour and a half movie viewers watched in horror the vivid torture, antagonistic, blood thirsty beasts in blue uniforms, with that particular cop as the ringleader, beat and murder the young Black men.
We watched, for what felt like hours, how the story-line was lost. At what point were the Civil Rights and Black Power activists going to be mentioned? If this was about the 1967 uprising of Detroit, where was the coverage of the outcries for justice that spilled into the streets? The scenes that were sprinkled here and there of rallies appeared more like afterthoughts. None of WHY the uprising began was focused on. For those like myself who watched the trailer, we wondered at what point was the Black security officer going to be brought in to tell what really happened on behalf of those who were murdered at the hands of the police?
For what felt like eternity, we watched dehumanizing acts against those young Black men. It was as if we were fooled into believing this was a movie discussing the historic accounts of unrest brought on by the unpopular military draft that targeted the poor and Black youth, the lack of adequate education, voting rights, etc. It was a reel of endless brutality against Black lives without a pause.