Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t make movies very often, but when she does, they’re worth dropping everything for. Detroit, her next film with Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal, employs a cast featuring John Boyega (of Star Wars: The Force Awakens fame) for what looks like a bleak and unflinching portrait of the infamous 1967 Detroit riot.
Detroit aims to depict the events leading up to the riot, which began when police officers raided an unlicensed bar largely attended by black patrons. At the time, they were celebrating the return of two soldiers from the Vietnam War. When the raid resulted in the arrest of everyone present, an outbreak of violence among onlookers rapidly escalated into one of the largest and most violent riots in the country’s history, lasting five days and resulting in 43 dead.
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The riots, as this 1997 New York Times article reflecting on the riot’s lingering effect on Detroit thirty years later states, were the final spark in what had become a powder keg of tension between Detroit’s majority-black population and its disproportionately white government and police force, the latter of which had become notorious for being “brutal and infected by racism.”
It’s another story where the social and political unrest of the ’60s has become painfully relevant in the present, as the militarization of law enforcement its relationship with the public has come under scrutiny and attitudes towards race have once again moved towards the forefront.
In telling it, Bigelow is solidifying her place as one of the most prominent and incisive filmmakers interested in exploring America’s recent history of violence: She explored a war in Iraq borne of post-9/11 anxiety in The Hurt Locker and America’s hunt for grim catharsis in Zero Dark Thirty. Bigelow—who collaborated with Boal on both films—manages to be effective by being stark and efficient, refusing to opine. The violence speaks for itself.
Detroit will likely do no less. This will likely make it very difficult to watch. It’ll also likely make it absolutely necessary to watch.