Though painful, some stories need to be told

Though painful, some stories need to be told

It’s not easy revisiting the past, but sometimes it’s necessary. At least that’s how director Kathryn Bigelow felt about the epic Detroit riot of 1967. Ignited by an afterhours raid on a black nightclub by the Detroit police force, it lasted for days. In fact, the beginning of the movie makes clear that the shifting demographics of the times led to what was a grossly unbalanced situation of a large urban African American community governed by a mostly white police force — what amounted to a hotbed of racism.

Bigelow, working with writer Mark Boal, has crafted a docu-style feature that is both riveting and disturbing. Taken from real events that happened during those days of the riot, the action focuses on the tragedy of the Algiers Motel incident that left three young black men dead and seven others, including two white women, badly beaten.

In this, as it was then, the lines are clearly drawn. The white cops are the oppressors, using unnecessary force to keep the rioters and looters in line. Bigelow introduces us to three: Krauss (Will Poulter) Flynn, (Ben O’Toole) and Demens (Jack Reynor), who fit this description. Then the victims are drawn in: some that were staying at the hotel, others who came there that night to get off the streets before curfew. The most prominent character is Larry (Algee Smith) a young musician who sings lead for The Dramatics, and Green (Anthony Mackie), an Army vet recently discharged honorably.

The characters are based on real people, although at the film’s end, it reminds us that all of the facts will never be known, so creative license was taken in the telling of this story, which started when a toy starting pistol was fired out of a window of the hotel. The local and state police and some national guardsmen nearby rush to the hotel thinking it was a sniper. What followed was a roundup of everyone in the hotel rooms, who were then lined up against the wall and one by one taken into another room and beaten or worse as the cops tried to get the truth. An African-American security guard, Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega), was also present but was helpless to stop the police for fear he would be killed as well.The film ends with the trial of the three Detroit policemen who instigated and then tried to cover up what happened, and the verdicts will not surprise anyone, which is Bigelow’s point. When she was nominated for a directing Oscar for “Zero Dark Thirty,” another tense true-life thriller about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, she was one of two women that had ever graced that category. When she won, it was undeniable: she was one of the best—female directors.

Now, with this movie, it’s clear she’s simple one of the best directors working and she’s taken the long, hard road to get here taking on tough material like “The Hurt Locker” about a bomb detonator in Afghanistan. Then “Zero Dark Thirty,” which also earned a best picture nomination and best actress nod for Jessica Chastain. “Detroit” should earn her even more recognition considering this story happened 50 years ago and no one has ever chosen to tell it. And it needed to be told.

Many of these victims are still alive today and Bigelow sought them out and invited them to participate in the process of filming so accuracy would drive the story. From beginning to end, it will draw you in and keep you there throughout as Bigelow balances what’s going on in the Algiers against what’s going on outside throughout the city, sometimes using real news footage and photos.

While I have a vague recollection of these events, I’ve never heard of the Algiers Motel killings. It’s a sobering story of racism and violence during one of the most volatile periods in Detroit’s history. It’s difficult to watch and incredibly sad, as depicting racism ought to be. The hardest part of it all is that it’s true.