OpEd: 'Detroit' is Going to Hurt, But It's Worth It

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Francois Duhamel

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By Jarrett Hill

You’re not going to love "Detroit" as the feel good movie of the year, but that’s why you should see it.

You’ll enjoy the cinematography, the outstanding performances, the bit of a history lesson you may walk away with. But you’ll likely also walk away silent. It’s not a movie for date night, it’s something to see with a friend, or friends, that you can talk to afterward to unpack it.

The beautifully executed Kathryn Bigelow film, that will easily celebrate its way through awards season recognition, recounts various stories of the 1967 Detroit Riots. It centers on the horrendous miscarriage of justice that occurred when a city was in uproar and a group of young people endure what had to be the longest, most difficult night of their lives.

Francois Duhamel

Accused, by police, of firing and then concealing a gun, the teens experience what’s both hard to personally imagine and also not at all unbelievable, in the Algiers Motel. Systematically and sadistically, the officers coordinate in an effort to get admissions they aren’t sure would even be true. They manipulate the teens, abuse and injure them, they handle the teens in ways that we wouldn’t ever want to have to live through — but know is possible.

You’re not going to love "Detroit" as the feel good movie of the year, but that’s why you should see it.

As a Black man, it’s scarily too close to home to imagine that I or one of my brothers, cousins, or friends could so easily be Larry, Leon, or any other of the countless names we may never learn that lived — or didn’t — through police brutality, manipulation and exoneration.

Related: Detroit at Crossroads 50 Years After Riots Devastated City

As a 32-year-old man, this real-life event happened nearly 20 years before I was born, but the concept of progress has still not found its way to the people who look like me when handled by police officers. 50 years later these stories feel as relevant, current and real as ever.

As a gay man, I can’t help but consider intersectionality. This film shows us Black women, young children, white women and others that found themselves on the business end of racism, sexism, misogyny, sexual assault and God only knows what else.

As an American, I’m disgusted by our nation’s truth, our collective pain and the ignoring of these realities with little-to-no reprimand by the systems that are (seemingly) there to protect, defend and serve (us?).

You’re not going to love "Detroit" as the feel good movie of the year, but that’s why you should see it.

Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

In one short scene, that is based on a true accounts, a Black man runs down the street with two police officers hot on his trail, he's running for his life. He takes three bullets in his back, the officers attempt at slowing him down, but he continues running. In the course of their pursuit, the men have run for blocks, the Black man has scaled a fence, continued his dash, and made it to help before hiding under a car. Help wouldn't ever find him, he'd lay dying under that car, pleading for his wife. She'd never hear his cries, he'd never see her again. His name was Leon and his story is infuriatingly true, frustratingly familiar and way too common.

While his story has eerie similarities to the 2015 shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina, their stories are separated by 50 years, the civil rights movement, race riots, a Black first family, and countless hashtags of police killings.

Without giving away the ending, the film requires you to walk away thinking about two things: only in Hollywood do stories get tied up in a pretty, palatable bow for us to feel good in the end. And it’s a sobering reminder that the physical, emotional and mental effects of these types of realities — back then, and even today — can be long-lasting and life-shaping.

Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

Stellar, gut-wrenching, infuriating, heart-breaking, harrowing, award-worthy performances by an ensemble cast of actors that are sure to have their glory moments in this film. You’ll undoubtedly look back at this film in many years and think, “They were in this movie back then, wow… look at them now.”

But you’ll likely leave the theater quietly. Thinking. Processing. Feeling.

Related: 50 Years Later, Newark Riots Recall an Era Echoed by Black Lives Matter

You’re not going to love "Detroit" as the feel good movie of the year, but that’s why you should see it.

This is the first time in many, many years that after a film rolled credits people were still seated, quiet, not sure when it was ok to get up and move. The last time I felt that was when I saw "The Passion Of The Christ." Maybe a couple of other times. And now definitely "Detroit."

What I’ve been calling “a quiet rage” has been building within, this film speaks to why that rage is there. A growing anger has been touched off in recent years for a whole new generation, this film isn’t why, but it’s a reminder.

There are people who will hate this film because it depicts something painful, but their anger, in my most humble opinion, is misplaced. Their anger is about this story being based in truth, not about the film not being worth what it costs to go to the movies. It’s understandable to have a negative reaction to the content, but it’s not the movie’s fault, it’s America’s.

Listen, you’re not going to love "Detroit" as the feel good movie of the year, but I honestly believe that’s why you should take some time, and go see it.

Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures

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