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Detroit

Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film tells the story of one incident that happened at Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit city riots; she based the dramatization on court transcripts and documents related to the case. During that incident, 3 members of the Detroit police force held several black men and two white women at the hotel trying to force a confession; during the encounter, 3 of those were shot and killed. The strength and power of the film is most evident during the incident at the motel. What happens there is gut-wrenching, sad, brutal, and difficult to watch, but you cannot turn away. Bigelow brings you right into the heart of the violence and terror those present must have felt; this is akin to what Nolan did in his film Dunkirk. The Algiers Motel episode represents a manifestation of overt racism and police brutality at its worst as well as the brutality associated with the history of racism in America. The acting by all is tremendous, especially Will Poulter, who plays the angry young cop who instigates everything; Algee Smith, the then-lead singer of the Dramatics who is one of the captives; and John Boyega, who plays a Black security guard who, while present during the entire situation, does very little to intercede. The part of the film that is lacking is the context; at the beginning, we see some quick images of statistics regarding life in Detroit leading up to the riots, but not much else that provides insight into the specifics of what happened in Detroit. We also only get highlights of the case when it goes to court. Given that quibble, I give this film a big thumbs-up. It is a difficult but important film to watch that provides insight into the history and state of race relations in America. After the film is over, the saddest realization is that since 1967, some important things have not changed.

About Gary Burkholder

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