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Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner and Brian Geraghty, Kathryn Bigelow The 2008 Venice Film

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‘Detroit’ Director Answers Questions About Making “Black” Film

By now we’re sure you’ve seen the trailers for the movie ‘Detroit,‘ which opens in theaters next week and if you’re anything like us, you may have more questions than answers. So we have to offer kudos to ELLE Magazine for their excellent coverage of the movie, courtesy of the great Michael Eric Dyson who maps out what happened during the riots of 1967 when black men were tortured and killed at the Algiers hotel. Dyson also narrows in on exactly what it means that this film was helmed by a white director, Kathryn Bigelow, who has made hugely successful films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.

Early in the story he lays out the groundwork, accompanying Bigelow to do research in Detroit and reveals how locals have their own misgivings about how Bigelow will do:

“But do the white girl really know what these crackas did to us?” a wizened old man asked me. It was more threat than question. I’d just told him that Bigelow was directing a movie about the Algiers Motel incident, in which racist white cops killed three black men—Carl Cooper, Aubrey Pollard, and Fred Temple—and viciously beat another eight, as well as two white women.

“What she know ’bout ni**as anyway?”

As it turns out, Bigelow is very aware of how little she knows but at the same time Dyson reveals she does know some very important things.

“When [screenplay writer, producer, and sometime collaborator] Mark Boal presented the idea of the incident at the Algiers Motel, it was right on the heels, sadly, of the death of Michael Brown,” in Ferguson, Missouri, Bigelow tells me on a break from the editing room at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. “It crystallized the need to add, from my vantage point, more volume to that conversation. Because it’s a conversation that I believe needs to be had.”

Clap for her for understanding that. And also clap for her acknowledging that she may not have been the best person to make the film.

“Am I the ideal person to direct this movie? No. Having lived with a certain amount of privilege, how can I truly, truly get into the DNA of somebody who has experienced social injustice?” But she decided to not let the best be the enemy of the good. “Is this a story that needs to be told? Yes. And so I felt like, well, let’s just add more noise to the conversation and hopefully there will be many more movies.”

Bigelow also admits she feels real pain and shame about the steate of Hollywood and America when it comes to race:

As for Bigelow herself, she laments the underrepresentation of people of color, as well as women, in the directorial ranks, but she believes we’ve got to keep confronting and exploring racial themes…by any means necessary, you might say. Her initial impression of the Algiers Motel tragedy was, “That’s 50 years ago. Surely something has changed.” But she almost immediately recognized she was wrong. “Oh, no, it hasn’t [changed]. I feel that from a sociopolitical standpoint, we’re just trapped unless there’s a political will to change this paradigm of subjugation.” She pauses and sits back in her chair. “And I feel pain,” she says. And then a sincere confession, as much for herself as for her fellow citizens: “And shame.”

After reading this, do you feel more compelled to see the film? Have you gained a greater respect for Bigelow?

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