Attending the Detroit press conference in the city of the Detroit is an honor in and of itself, but to hear the heartfelt and incredibly thoughtful responses from the creators of this movie was insight I didn’t know I needed. If anything, I hope their words, written down, convey the message I took home from hearing from them, that is that they didn’t just work really hard on this film and are now promoting it…they truly care about what they’ve created and hope to ignite recognition of the past and inspire change for the present and future. The admiration each actor have for Kathryn Bigelow is palpable. There was an understanding amongst the cast, that not everyone (myself included) will appreciate all aspects of this film, and it will be polarizing. The critiques are not to be ignored, and they took everyone seriously as they responded to questions. How it was told, who it was centered on, the sequence of events etc., seems to have rubbed many the wrong way, but that the film itself is an entity bent on sharing a historical event that has been too long ignored.
The movie is uncomfortable for us, how do you deal with playing a racist cop? How do you embrace that? Do you take it home with you?
A big thing was having an open channel of communication on set and creating a safety net between everybody. Kathryn and Mark put together this great ensemble, so everybody felt very safe emotionally, psychologically, and physically as well. We were also working in an environment where there was no judgment, so we could work judgment-free. We could sort of go to the places that we had to go to. At the end of the day, the responsibility is kind of being unapologetic and playing these characters in an unapologetic way because it is bigger than us. What we’re trying to do with this film is bigger than us. I felt very supported and safe throughout this whole thing and it’s definitely an ugly place to exist for a while.
I would say that in a sense there is perhaps an argument that needing all of us to keep apart from one another, not integrate, keep our distance, for the sake of capturing something that’s real and authentic on screen. I think the decision we all came to collectively was to prefix everything we did on set by establishing strong relationships and identifying each other through respect and trust so that we could perform the antithesis on set and go to those extremes. It was kind of a double-edged sword though because of course it makes inflicting the violence and aggression and acting with hatred toward someone you love and respect harder at times. You know? But I’m really glad that we can look back on this process and be very proud of the product we all produced and say we did it as a team. At the end of it, we have a stronger bond and a movie we’re proud of too.
Some residents are afraid that this film will cause tension between native Detroiters and the transplants in present-day Detroit. What do you think about that? Is this something that you’ve heard?
That’s a good question. As far as what I’ve heard on that…I did a radio show this morning and people called in and the thing that really struck me was that everybody that was alive then has a memory from ’67. One of the callers’ brothers had been friends some of the people that were killed at the Algiers Incident and he was telling the story that his brother was supposed to go there that night and didn’t go because he said ‘our mom stood at the door and insisted that we couldn’t go out’. Someone else called and said ‘the riot didn’t start the way you showed it, it started the day before. The afternoon before, there was this woman that police had show.’ So there were a lot of different calls, so the thing that I’ve heard from the people that lived through ’67 is this sense of there was a whole range of human experiences and obviously the movie can only do a certain number. The other thing I’ve heard from being here recently, is that a lot of people who didn’t live through it, don’t know this story. Even people from Detroit that went to high school here. If that’s true in Detroit, it’s certainly nationally and that this story had been forgotten. I didn’t learn it in high school. That’s probably they don’t really teach American history in high schools very well in this country. When you talk about ’67 ,when you think about it culturally, usually the cultural representations are like ‘the summer of love’ and the hippy movement/ rebellion. Meanwhile, you have this major civil strife in America’s urban centers going on in the same summer and that’s just not part of our overall cultural awareness.
What made them start the movie where they did? No violence, the word nigger was used 4 times total. The whole movie toned down. The riots started before and the racial tension and the anger in the city. It didn’t seem like a reason why black people should riot.
With all due respect, I’m not the writer or director but I can comment on it though. You have to look at what we tried to do in a matter of two hours. If you wanted to tell the whole thing, it would take a mini-series to do that. You would have to have 10 short episodes to tell every single detail of what happened in those riots. The point of the movie is to highlight the injustice towards these certain people, not to say ‘that ain’t what that looked like’, we know that. We just tried to get as close as we could to tell the bigger picture. As far as how else to speak on it, I can’t speak on it because I didn’t write it or direct it, but just as an actor being in it, I do understand that part. To tell every single detail would take a really long time but to bring you up to speed like they did, I think they did a really good job.
I’ll just say that I respect your review and you being honest and asking your question. The beginning is a reflection of systematic racism and how that in itself creates tension between the people when the system is rigged in a way to stop you from getting the jobs you deserve, to stop you from being the best that you can be, and to a large amount of people it sparks a reaction. Yes, the situation that we started with wasn’t the necessary issue that sparked the riots, but to say ‘riots’…I would say ‘uprise’, because there is a different nuance and a different dynamic and I will say that that beginning, it’s hard in a few sentences to squeeze in all of that information. The key to that is that it showed you a gradual burner and the disintegration of unity when a system is against you. And that’s another thing we are trying to relay in this movie, systematic racism is very very real. Okay cool, it wasn’t a thrown bottle that started the riots, it wasn’t that. But the system definitely had something to do with that tension. I hope that gave you more clarity.
Was there a conversation about you being a white woman telling a black story?
Absolutely. Certainly a very lengthy conversation with myself. I really thought long hard ‘am I the right person to make this film?’ absolutely not, no way. On the other hand, this story needed to be told and that kind of overrode any other hesitation and I thought ‘here I have this platform, I have this medium, I’m fairly conversant in, I have this opportunity, this story needs to (I think), needs to see the light of day, so I took advantage of that opportunity. At the same time, realizing that that’s a concern, it’s a challenge. But I did feel that the necessity to tell the story was greater than not telling it.