Detroit: Modern History on Film

Posted by Speakeasy News > Wednesday 25 October 2017 > What's On

Detroit tells the true story of an incident during the “race riots” which swept U.S. cities in the summer of 1967. The film, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, has won praise for its portrayal of police corruption and racial tensions during that long hot summer.

1967 is remembered for the hippie Summer of Love, but July that year saw outbreaks of violence in over 100 cities across the country. Life for African Americans, even in northern states, was difficult to say the least. The combination of discrimination and poverty made life a struggle. Many African American families had migrated from the Southern states to the north in the hope of a better life, and work in the industrial cities. But they found themselves living in slums, often in de facto segregated districts, and generally unable to get more than the most menial jobs. Racism was rife amongst almost exclusively white police forces.

Most of the riots of 1967 were sparked off by an incident with the police perceived as being discriminatory or harassment. The Detroit riot – or rebellion depending on your point of view – was sparked by the police raiding an after-hours drinking den. It led to five days of unrest during which 43 people died and hundreds were injured.


Detroit focuses on an incident two days into the unrest when gunfire was heard in the vicinity of a National Guard post. The police and guards believed the shots came from the nearby Algiers Motel, and launched a raid. The film tells the story of a night of brutal interrogation as the police tried to extract a confession from the hapless residents of the hotel, black and white alike. It resulted in the deaths of three black men, and as portrayed in the film trailer, a fourth African American man who had come to see if he could help, was blamed by the police for the deaths. Melvin Dismukes (played by Star Wars’ John Boyega) was eventually acquitted at trial but the ordeal marked him forever.

Warning the film, and the trailer, is not for the faint hearted.

The film was released in the U.S.A. to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the events it depicts. Unfortunately, fifty years on, as the Black Lives Matter campaign points out, relations between the police and the black community are far from normalised.

On general release from 11 October

Webpicks Useful websites and online tools for classroom use
> Martin Luther King Day on the Web
> Little Rock School Integration Videos
Ready to Use Downloadable resources ready to use in class
> Civil Rights: The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Notion(s) culturelle(s) : "Lieux et formes du pouvoir"