On Detroit and the Ongoing Beatdown of Black America In the Movies…

Will Poulter and Anthony Mackie: Detroit (2017)

By: Tim Cogshell

In the city of Detroit, from July 23 through July 27th of 1967, the people rebelled against the conditions of their existence.  Some people call this the 1967 Detroit riot, it’s also known as the 12th Street riot, and the 1967 Detroit rebellion. I prefer the latter.

During the events of the rebellion 43 people died, 33 of whom were Black, 10 were White. Twenty four of the Black victims were shot by police officers and National Guardsmen while 6 were shot by store owners or security guards. Three of those killings are the subject of Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker and Zero Dark 30), and her itinerant scenario writer Mark Boal ( The Hurt Locker,  Zero Dark Thirty  and  In the Valley of Elah) – and their new Dramatic / Thriller – Detroit.

Dramatic / Thriller is the marketing term-of-art being used in the promotion of the movie. We’ll get back to that notion in a moment.

The film is – generally – masterfully composed. In addition to Boal, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd returns. Ackroyd lensed Hurt Locker for Bigelow as well as United 93, Green Zone, Captain Phillips and Jason Bourne, among a number of other shakey-cam flicks that “…puts the audience in the action” as it were.  Providing a sense of Haskell Wexler-esque verite’ is Ackroyd’s speciality and that’s the central goal of these filmmakers – to make all of this seem real. Horribly real. This, they achieve. For the most part it all feels horribly real.

When it’s not being horribly real Detroit is deeply self-serving, occasionally condescending and more than a little irritating. This is usually what happens when White filmmakers decide to tell the story of a minority their ancestors lorded over during one of our nation’s many moments of exceptional cruelty to communities that are not White.  Nonetheless, the movie is very well made. Its players are all deeply committed, particularly Will Poulter (The Revenant, We Are the Millers) as Krauss, the Detroit policeman at the center of several dastardly moments during the rebellion, including the killing of three young Black men. The fact that Officer Krauss (and others) killed these boys is not disputed – the facts surrounding the killings were.

As to the filmmakers condescension and self-serving presentation, we will return to this in a bit also.  As to the movie being irritating – that might just be me.

Much of the mayhem takes place in the Algiers motel where Krauss and his cohorts, including other Detroit police officers, State Troopers and National Guardsman, engage in a brutal – and brutally depicted – series of interrogations wherein several young Black men and two young White women were abused physically and psychology and occasionally – murdered outright.

All of this good filmmaking, these extraordinary performances, are part of the problem of Detroit – and films of its kind – which include most civil rights era sagas, from Driving Miss Daisy to The Help, to most slave narratives from Mandingo to Roots (1977) to Twelve Years a Slave, to Roots again in a 2016 series, to The Free State of Jones; and to both the demonstrably evil The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith – 1915) and the well intentioned The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker – 2016). The latter produced for the most part by Black filmmakers. These films are all so well made, so “good” that their sheer impressive presentation often obscure their effect on the communities they portend to support  (or not in the case of Griffith); that effect being to recast these communities again-and-again as savagely brutalized victims, degraded and beatdown.

Which, of course, has been true in the history of America, and well documented in the history of American cinema.  Fully documented, some might say.

These films must, by virtue of their earnestness (including D.W.’s deeply earnest intention to spread lies and hurt Black folks) contribute to the ongoing beatdown of Black America in American movies. They enfranchise the notion of degradation and defeat as the central narrative of African Americans and women and other minorities in our nation. We’ve been watching ourselves get our asses kicked, abused, raped and murdered in the movies for more than 100 hundred years. Very often we are presented these images, historical or otherwise, in films meant to appease – us – and by extension assuage the guilt of the descendants of the previously mentioned unkind majority who are often – as noted – being both condescending and self-serving in the process.

The occasional Hidden Figures, notwithstanding.

Ostensibly these films, Detroit and the like, are also meant to edify the nation about these histories, and insure that these deprivations of humanity never happen again. They don’t.  At best they entertain, which is another issue we’ll get to.  However well made these movies always fail to capture the “truth” of events like those painstakingly – expertly – captured in Detroit because, like all narrative fiction – they’re made up. Certainly they are researched deeply, in fact the exhaustive research into these events is noted in the end credits of Detroit.  It’s a moment that felt like the filmmakers saying to the audience, “…see we looked it up on more than just the internet.”  

Which they plainly did, and good for them.

Nevertheless it’s made up…  filtered, interpreted, staged and presented, to us, the audience, as history – which it isn’t.  Still, these filmmakers have decided they know what happen at the Algiers Motel that hot July night in 1967. They show us these cops shooting from the hip, planting evidence, abusing and maligning and ultimately killing. These filmmakers believe the victims and deign to tell their story – but not the victim’s way – rather the Hollywood way.  And they may well have gotten it right, including many of the facts and the tone of the moment.  For that matter – I agree with them. These cops are guilty of everything they are accused of so far as I’m concerned. But I’m a Black American from the 1960s, who knows this history as a-history in the lives of my people in this nation.  From uprisings in Philly and Harlem, to those in Watts and Ferguson (where I lived for years), these stories have been lived and told from generation-to-generation with the specific intention of keeping me and Black boys like me alive.  The idea that the police could and did kill Black folks anywhere, at anytime for any reason – or no reason at all – has been a baseline of understanding in Black communities for 400 years – give or take a week or two during Reconstruction and Bill Clinton’s first election.

The events of Detroit 67’ are not the events of a dramatic “thriller” for Black Americans, they are the events of a tragedy and still living history we know very well – thank you.

But, the events in this film, Detroit, are not actually true – at all.

Detroit is a narrative fictional movie – not a documentary.  Indeed, Detroit-the-movie, is a dramatic / thriller, meant first to entertain. Which it does.  Which is why I don’t like it and would never send anyone to see it – however well intentioned and well made. This is one level of the self-serving nature of this film – these films and filmmakers – that is in fact entertainment first – if not only.  This is meant to let the filmmakers off the hook; to give them creative license to tell these stories to their most engaging effect. But it does not.

Because Detroit is ultimately an entertainment it must do several things that are required of narrative American studio cinema. Which is why the word “thriller” is such a prominent part of the marketing.  Which is why the trailer looks and sounds like the Zero Dark Thirty trailer rather than the trailer for say, Jackie or even Selma (which I also have issues with). You’ll note the word “tragedy” is not used in the marketing of this film or it’s like.  Tragedy is the accurate description of these events and most of the events of the many slave and slave-like narratives we are repeatedly offered as entertainment. These are all horrible reverberating tragedies that devastated lives and truncated the advancement of a people. The one thing they are not – is thrilling. If you find them thrilling you’ve got a problem.

But – hollywood can’t sell tragedies that Shakespeare didn’t write, so filmmakers take these tragedies and recast them as fodder for a thriller – titillating and evocative of our most basic-emotional responses to the images and scenarios we are presented – which are demeaning and diminishing.  Which I note again may all be true(ish) to the events of the day.  It doesn’t matter because for this film – these miseries – were destined to be played as nail-biting and indeed – thrilling.

Which is by my measure is condescending at best, sadistic at worst and definitely self-serving in every case.

Detroit – with all its good intentions and little contrivances of history – with its desire to commiserate with a down trodden community even as it treads upon that community in every frame – is a movie that I didn’t need – don’t want and will not recommend even as I know Hollywood will honor it in the weeks and months ahead with all it’s good citizenships awards as it checks off a box on its list of good deeds –  #HollywoodNotSoRacistAfterAll.

The history of the events of the 67′ Detroit Rebellion are just that – history.  They are not fodder for a self-severing thriller that subjects audiences – Black and White – once again to a cinematic beatdown of Black America at the hands of a stereotyped White Americans – who we are reminded in the film – are nothing like the good White folks who made this movie as an entertaining service to the greater community. Yet – the these brutal images are only ever brought to Black Americans – all Americans – by well intentioned White American filmmakers who identify – so to speak – with our pain.

There’s an irony in that.

Detroit is a very well made movie. If you should see it you will likely come away from it emotionally tweaked – in one direction or another. If you are Black (as I am) you’ll likely feel sickened and once again reduced to little more than the collective tragedies of our history. If you are an average White person you will likely come away sickened and perhaps embarrassed, as you are reduced to little more than the heinous behaviour your ancestors. You will not “know” anything true about the 1967 Detroit rebellion.

If you do want to know about the history of these events you can.  There’s a great book called Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies, by Joel Stone (Wayne State University Press). It’s a cogent and well written analysis of the titular issues of the day. And, there is a recently produced hometown documentary account of the events called 12th and Clairmount, which was produced by the Detroit Free Press in collaboration with Bridge Magazine and WXYZ-TV (Channel 7), and a group of metro-Detroit cultural institutions, led by the Detroit Institute of Arts.  The documentary contains more than 400 reels of donated home movies from the era and narratives from people who were there – lived there – lived the events themselves. It’s not thrilling. It captures this history without degrading the victims through the adept use of the tools of narrative cinema to render us – small.

Unlike Detroit it does not use good intentions and excellent filmmaking to once again, stylishly, beatdown Black people in a movie meant to make White people feel better about themselves. 

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

FilmWeek: ‘Transformers,’ ‘The Beguiled,’ ‘The Big Sick’ and more, plus how the most unforgettable film scores…

Reviews of the week’s new movies, interviews with filmmakers, and discussion. Hosted by Larry Mantle FilmWeek: ‘Transformers,’ ‘The Beguiled,’ ‘The Big Sick’ and more…

LISTEN HERE:   FilmWeek: ‘Transformers,’ ‘The Beguiled,’ ‘The Big Sick’ and more, plus how the most unforgettable film scores are made…

by FilmWeek

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Cast and Crew speak on stage at the US premiere of “Transformers: The Last Knight” at the Civic Opera House on June 20, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois.TIMOTHY HIATT/GETTY IMAGES FOR PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Guest host Libby Denkmann and KPCC film critics Claudia Puig and Tim Cogshell review this weekend’s new movie releases including:

The Frame host John Horn also spoke with director Sofia Coppola last week, you can listen to the interview here.

Guests:

Claudia Puig, film critic for KPCC and president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; she tweets @ClaudiaPuig

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

FilmWeek: ‘The Mummy,’ ‘It Comes at Night,’ ‘Megan Leavey’ and more, plus a chat with film historian Leonard Maltin

LISTEN HERE:  

FilmWeek: ‘The Mummy,’ ‘It Comes at Night,’ ‘Megan Leavey’ and more, plus a chat with film historian Leonard Maltin

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Justin Chang and Tim Cogshell review this weekend’s new movie releases including:

Critics’ Hits

  • Justin: “It Comes at Night” & “Beatriz At Dinner”
  • Tim: “Letters from Baghdad,” “The Hero” & “It Comes at Night”

 

Mixed Feelings

  • Justin: “My Cousin Rachel” & “The Hero”
  • Tim: “Megan Leavey” & “Beatriz At Dinner”

 

Misses!

  • Justin & Tim: “The Mummy”

 

Guests:

Justin Chang, film critic for KPCC and the Los Angeles Times; he tweets @JustinCChang

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

FilmWeek: ‘Going in Style,’ ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ and more…

by FilmWeek

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Tim Cogshell, Peter Rainer and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases including:

  • Going in Style” in wide release
  • Smurfs: The Lost Village” in wide release
  • Colossal” at ArcLight Hollywood & The Landmark
  • Gifted” at ArcLight Pasadena, The Landmark, AMC Century City and other select theaters
  • Their Finest” ArcLight Hollywood and The Landmark
  • Salt and Fire” at Arena Cinelounge Sunset
  • Your Name” (English dub release) at ArcLight Sherman Oaks and Laemmle’s Monica Film Center
  • Cezanne and I” at Laemmle’s Playhouse, Laemmle’s Royal Theatre and Laemmle’s Town Center
  • Tickling Giants” at Laemmle’s Music Hall

Critics’ Hits

Tim: “Cezanne and I”

Peter: “Their Finest” & “Tickling Giants”

Charles: “Your Name”

 

Mixed Feelings

Tim: “Gifted”

Peter: “Colossal”

Charles: “Smurfs: The Lost Village”

 

Misses!

Tim: “Salt and Fire”

 

Guests:

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Peter Rainer, film critic for KPCC and the Christian Science Monitor

Charles Solomon, film critic for KPCC, Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine

FilmWeek: ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ ‘Raw,’ ‘Personal Shopper’ and more

by FilmWeek

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Brie Larson attends the European premiere of “Kong: Skull Island” at the Cineworld Empire Leicester Square on February 28, 2017 in London, United Kingdom.IAN GAVAN/GETTY IMAGES

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Claudia Puig and Tim Cogshell review this weekend’s new movie releases including: the fantastical legend of “Kong: Skull Island” starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson; Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic-thriller “Raw;” “Personal Shopper” starring Kristen Stewart in the underground fashion world of Paris; and more.

LISTEN HERE:   FilmWeek: ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ ‘Raw,’ ‘Personal Shopper’ and more, plus the making of ‘High Noon’ during the Hollywood blacklist years

This Week’s Reviews

  • “Kong: Skull Island” – Wide Release
  • “Personal Shopper” – ArcLight Hollywood and The Landmark
  • “Raw” – Nuart Theatre
  • “The Sense of an Ending” – ArcLight Hollywood and The Landmark
  • “Burning Sands” – iPic Theaters Westwood (also on Netflix)
  • “Brimstone” – Laemmle’s Music Hall
  • “The Other Half” – Laemmle’s Monica Film Center
  • “The Ottoman Lieutenant” – AMC Burbank Town Center, ArcLight Sherman Oaks, Laemmle’s Playhouse, and other select theatres
  • “My Scientology Movie” – ArcLight Hollywood

Guests:

Claudia Puig, film critic for KPCC and president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; she tweets @ClaudiaPuig

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

FilmWeek’s 2017 Oscar preview from The Theatre at Ace Hotel

by FilmWeek

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KPCC’s FilmWeek critics and host Larry Mantle plus an audience of 1,000 gathered at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for FilmWeek’s 2017 Oscar preview.LOUIS FELIX/KPCC

 

KPCC’s FilmWeek critics and host Larry Mantle plus an audience of 1,000 gathered at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss and debate the contenders for this year’s major Oscar categories. There were vigorous deliberations over “Moonlight” and “La La Land” in the Best Picture categories and almost no agreement on the Best Documentary Feature.

Who are you favoring for this year’s Academy Awards?

KPCC's FilmWeek critics and host Larry Mantle plus an audience of 1,000 gathered at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for FilmWeek's 2017 Oscar preview.
KPCC’s FilmWeek critics and host Larry Mantle plus an audience of 1,000 gathered at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles for FilmWeek’s 2017 Oscar preview.LOUIS FELIX/KPCC

Critics:

Justin Chang, film critic for KPCC and the Los Angeles Times

Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide

Christy Lemire, KPCC film critic and host of YouTube’s “What the Flick?”

Lael Loewenstein, KPCC film critic

Wade Major, KPCC film critic and host for IGN’s DigiGods.com

Amy Nicholson, KPCC film critic and chief film critic for MTV News

Peter Rainer, film critic for KPCC and the Christian Science Monitor

Charles Solomon, film critic for KPCC, Animation Scoop and “Animation Magazine

 

 

 

Tim is Critic At Large for Alt Film Guide (http://www.altfg.com/blog).  His reviews are archived at:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/tim-cogshell/

FilmWeek: Sequels for ‘John Wick,’ ‘Fifty Shades’ and ‘LEGO,’ plus Oscar shorts

by FilmWeek

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Action Figures and Statues of “The Lego Batman Movie” on display for the New York Screening at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 on February 9, 2017 in New York City.  DAVE KOTINSKY/GETTY IMAGES

Larry Mantle tackles a busy week at the cinemas with KPCC film critics Charles Solomon, Tim Cogshell and Amy Nicholson. They will review a batch of sequels in wide release: “John Wick: Chapter 2,” “Fifty Shades Darker” and “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Plus, all the Oscar-nominated shorts are playing in select theatres, so we will review the Live Action and Animation categories.

 

Charles’ Hits

Tim’s Hits

Amy’s Hits

Mixed Reviews

This Week’s Misses

Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films

Oscar-nominated Animated Short Films

Guests:

Charles Solomon, Film Critic for KPCC and Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine

Tim Cogshell, Film Critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Amy Nicholson, Film Critic for KPCC and Chief Film Critic, MTV News; she tweets @TheAmyNicholson

 

 

 

Tim is Critic At Large for Alt Film Guide (http://www.altfg.com/blog).  His reviews are archived at:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/tim-cogshell/

FilmWeek: ‘Underworld: Blood Wars,’ ‘Railroad Tigers,’ ‘Arsenal’ and…

by FilmWeek

Listen Here:  FilmWeek: ‘Underworld: Blood Wars,’ ‘Railroad Tigers’ and more, plus a new tome on the Marx brothers ….

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Actress Kate Beckinsale attends the Berlin to photocall for ‘Underworld: Blood Wars’ wearing a dress by Elie Saab on the terrace at Akademie der Kuenste on November 22, 2016 in Berlin, Germany.BRIAN DOWLING/GETTY IMAGES FOR SONY PICTURES

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Wade Major, Tim Cogshell and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases including: in wide release, Kate Beckinsale taking another turn as vampire warrior Selene in “Underworld: Blood Wars;” Jackie Chan in the Mandarin-language feature “Railroad Tigers;” the thriller “Arsenal” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack; and more.

TGI-FilmWeek!

Tim’s Hits

Charles’ Hits

Mixed Reviews

This Week’s Misses

Guests:

Tim Cogshell, Film Critic for KPCC and Alt-Film Guide; he tweets @CinemaInMind

Wade Major, Film Critic for KPCC and host for IGN’s DigiGods.com

Charles Solomon, Film Critic for KPCC and Animation Scoop and Animation Magazine

FilmWeek: ‘Jackie,’ ‘Man Down,’ ‘Incarnate’ and more, plus a deeper look at capturing the life of Jackie Kennedy…

Listen Here: FilmWeek: ‘Jackie,’ ‘Man Down,’ ‘Incarnate’ and more, plus a deeper look at capturing the life of Jackie Kennedy

 

FilmWeek: ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ ‘Red Turtle’ and more…

Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Tim Cogshell, Andy Klein and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases. It’s a big one for notable releases including the “Harry Potter” spinoff from J.K. Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them;” a critically acclaimed drama with Oscar buzz, “Manchester by the Sea;” a significant animated feature from Studio Ghibli, “The Red Turtle;” plus what Rotten Tomatoes calls more than just another coming-of-age dramedy, “The Edge of Seventeen;” a very promising documentary about an eccentric farmer, “Peter and the Farm” and more! TGI-FilmWeek!
BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM-CINEMA-FANTASTIC BEASTS

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