Detroit opens with an animated montage depicting the migration of large numbers of African-Americans from the south to the north during the Civil War era.
The animation sequence then transform into street scenes in Detroit, Michigan in the United States at a time of major race riots in 1967. This is a piece of American civil rights history I knew nothing about.
On a lighter note, there is another story happening. It’s the ’60s and Motown music is emerging.
As the violence continues, public events are being cancelled. One is a concert where up-and-coming singing group The Dramatics is just about to take the stage. Police raid the club and the group is forced to flee as the hall is cleared, they catch a bus but become caught up in the rioting and take refuge in the Algiers Motel.
It’s a surreal setting at the Algiers. Guests are lounging by the pool enjoying cocktails while across the road a line-up of armed national guards are patrolling buildings trying to keep the peace.
The real action begins when black hotel guest Carl Cooper decides he’s fed up with blacks being bullied by white cops and guardsmen. He fires a starter pistol out of the hotel window in their direction as a “joke to show them what it is like”.
Angry police officers storm the building looking for the armed man they think shot at them. They hold seven black men and two white women hostage during the night and subject them to racially charged police brutality to try to force someone to reveal the identify of the shooter.
The hostages include three of The Dramatics and a soldier who is celebrating his return from Vietnam. Three black men are murdered and the two white women are angrily assaulted because they are consorting with blacks.
The film closes with the investigation into the police actions that night. Murder charges are laid against the police, but witnesses are discredited and the officers are cleared in a major travesty of justice.
The closing screen notes inform us that the story is true but admits to gaps in the knowledge because of the inadequacy of the investigation and nature of the evidence given in court.
It is a disturbing movie that is difficult to watch. Yet it is brilliantly directed and acted and brings to life a hard hitting and gut wrenching story that serves again to remind us of the deep wounds of long term racial violence in America.
ROK’S RATINGS: 4 glasses of bubbly – (but there’s nothing to celebrate watching this film)