Katherine Bigelow’s “DETROIT” is terror porn; devoid of resistance and hope


As one fellow movie goer said I feel violated, and that about sums it up. If you relish seeing Black people getting their behinds kicked and terrorized and murdered, if Black pain, Black helplessness and Black victimization (minus resistance)  turns you on, then this is the film for you.

On the other hand, the film shows that police violence  and oppression has been with us for quite some time and it brings to the fore one of the more beastly chapters in that history.

However, the film’s interpretation of the events at the Algiers Hotel during the 1967 Detroit riot undercuts why the rebellion occurred.  It wasn’t because of a few bad cops but because of an entirely oppressive police force and oppressive and racist and discriminatory power structure that caused Black Detroit to explode.

Black Detroit existed in a kind of caste society.  They faced injustice and discrimination in every aspect of their lives: from limited housing opportunities to inadequate and overpriced housing, underfunded and inadequate schools; the inability to obtain bank  loans; job discrimination; White privilege on the shop floor; two tiered wage structures;  over-inflated prices for goods and services; higher prices for poorer quality and on and on.

Director Katherine Bigelow’s slice of the Detroit riots is nothing more than a horror film, terror porn, posing as thoughtful art. But Bigelow is not known for thoughtful art, she produced the US propaganda film “Zero Dark Thirty” that sought to rationalize and justify US torture while  portraying  Muslims as violent.

We are treated to one horror scene after another, no doubt police violence and this instance was especially horrific. But it was over the top, starting with a little Black girl being machined gun after being mistaken for a sniper.  We witness a cop shooting a Black man  in the back who was running from him. There was one brutal scene after another. The film held us down and rubbed our noses in the carnage.

According to interviews Bigelow made this film to wake up White people? “I always feel that the purpose of art is to agitate for change, but you can’t change anything if you’re not aware of it,” she said in a Variety interview.

Bigelow’s statement is problematic on a few levels.  First she fails to show folks advocating for themselves and she doesn’t understand her fellow White folks they are more than aware of police violence against their fellow citizens, but they have been programmed to not put themselves in the shoes of their fellow citizens which at bottom is what empathy requires .Unfortunately some  White people have made it clear by their inaction and apathy that they are quite comfortable with and un-empathetic to  Black people’s pain.

“My hope is that a dialogue comes out of this film that can begin to humanize a situation that often feels very abstract.”

Bigelow reveals her class setting and her proximity to the oppressors, because oppressed folks don’t want to talk about oppression, they want it ended. But the comfortable can afford to dialogue and experiment .

The most dignified moment of the movie occurred when Anthony Mackie’s character take a beating with guts.” I see what you are doing but I am not going to go along with it,” he told his tormentors.

Some reviewers noted that they witnessed redemption in the film, but there is little redeeming or liberating about this film. It portrays Black folks as victims throughout having little to no ability to do anything about the situation in which they find themselves. The White people are doing most of the acting and Blacks are reacting.

White folks are multi –dimensional in the film. There are the bad racist White cops, the Michigan State Police who recognize a wrong is being done and leaves, the National Guardsman who helps one of the Black teens and the White girls involved escape. There are sympathetic cops like the Internal Affairs folks. There is a nice White male cop who wonders aloud who could do this to someone.

Some reviewers reveal just how far they have not advanced when it comes to understanding Black folks one noted  that Motown’s giving the Dramatics a record contract after all the carnage was a form of redemption. Really allowing a few musicians to prosper, atoned and covers  for all the brutalization and oppression  Black Detroiters faced?

Worse yet the film ends with one of the survivors and original members of the Dramatics who drops out of the group because he is traumatized by his experience, singing James Cleveland’s version of “Peace Be Still.” Is the screenwriter Mark Boal, implying that Jesus is sleep as well?  “Carest thou not that we perish” the song asks.

And Micheal Eric Dyson consulted on this film which he is on record praising which raises questions. Was he paid off; has he sold out;  or is he not as “Woke” as he would have folks to believe?

Despite the good intentions of the White liberal screenwriter and director, the likely unintentional psychological message is, this is the way it is and nothing can be done about police violence or the system that requires it. In other words resistance is futile, abandon all hope. White folks have power (the White Power Structure even more powerful) they have will, and  they have agency. Black people while proving that they can  take a beating  well they got music and Jesus…..

justice then peace