It’s time we knew
Set during the 1967 riots, Kathryn Bigelow’s next film, Detroit, assembled a tremendous ensemble including Anthony Mackie, John Boyega, John Krasinski, Jacob Latimore, Jason Mitchell, Jack Reynor, and Will Poulter, but the trailer is focused on Boyega, playing a young security guard in Detroit. His dilemma is compelling—he’s a black security guard in a city being torn apart by racial tension, trying to make nice with white National Guardsmen who treat him like sh*t, and trying to keep a stand-off from going south after a kid shoots a starter pistol during a party. It’s so intense it makes my stomach hurt.
Bigelow does this high-wire act better than just about anybody, and she’s again working with screenwriter Mark Boal, her Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty collaborator. So we know from their history what Detroit will be like, which is raw and pseudo-documentarian, and even where they tweak the truth for dramatic purposes, still a brutal facsimile of real life. And the story, though set in 1967, couldn’t be more relevant to our world today.
The tagline in the trailer is “It’s time we knew”, which is PERFECT. It sort of invokes Hidden Figures, and the notion that huge chunks of history have been buried because they don’t fit the preferred narrative. When Ferguson, Missouri erupted in 2014, so many people acted like that just came out of the blue, but it was just the latest rotation in a cycle we keep repeating because we don’t learn about stories like Detroit in 1967, or Watts in 1965, or Boston in the 1970s. But now these stories are being mined for film and television, and we’re beginning to see history not as a straight line but as a wheel, one that’s doomed to keep rolling down the same worn paths if we don’t figure out how to steer onto better roads.
Detroit is due on August 4th. That means they think they can catch some summer box office, but also keep it close enough to award season to ride some momentum to Oscar, not unlike Straight Outta Compton. But with this one I’m less interested in Oscar odds than I am in what kind of cultural impact it could have. Compton turned into a big pop cultural moment in 2015, just as Hidden Figures did earlier this year. I’d love to see Detroit have the same kind of moment, because it IS time we knew this story, and that we talk about it.