Reactions to Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film Detroithave beenpolarized, and the considerable backlash may have caused its opening weekend box office to suffer.Bigelow’s films are known for their tightly-choreographed combat scenes and their fictionalization of brutal historical events. In Detroit, Bigelow takes on the story of the Algiers Motel incident, where three young black men—Carl Cooper, Fred Temple, and Aubrey Pollard—were tortured and killed by police officers in the motel’s annex. In the early morning hours of July 26, 1967, a few days into the unrest that would eventually become known as the Detroit rebellion, the three young men, along with many others, took refuge at the motel amid a city-wide curfew. Police forces received reports of sniper fire and raided the Algiers, finding a group of black men socializing with white women. There were interrogations, humiliations, assaults, and eventually murder. No gun was ever found on the grounds of the Algiers, and the police involved were found not guilty on all charges associated with the incident.
Conversation about the film has touched on questions about who has the authority to tell what stories. Bigelow is a white woman from the West Coast who said she knew herself not to be the “ideal person” to make the movie. But she and former journalist Mark Boal, the film’s screenwriter, worked with black academics, historians, and eyewitnesses to ensure a certain level of accuracy in the story. Jelani Cobb, a historian and staff writer at TheNew Yorker, Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., head of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard were among those reportedly consulted.
A man named Carl Ingram told the council that police officers had forced his fiancée to strip during an illegal search on December 7. “There ain’t no man hiding in her clothes!” he said. “If I had had a gun, I sure enough would have used it.” John Reynolds, the chair of a city task force dedicated to improving police-community relations, testified that his son had been stopped and beaten by police on New Year’s Eve. Kenneth Cockrel called on Mayor Gribbs to remove Nichols from his post and shut down STRESS.
But as with more recent debates over initiatives like stop and frisk, police brass countered with reams of crime statistics. The purpose of STRESS was to reduce robberies, they insisted, and the unit had been a resounding success. During their first year on the job, STRESS officers made 2,496 arrests and seized 600 guns. Robberies were down for the first time in a decade—by nearly 30 percent in two years.
Officers, meanwhile, discovered that killing unarmed civilians was a badge of honor within the department. “I was still lauded for what I was doing, even after the community started to get heavy on STRESS,” Peterson recalled. “They were happy with me. Whenever I shot someone, I would have to go to headquarters to fill out a report and the guys would cheer me when I walked in. The brass… went out of its way to encourage me. I was a proud boy, you know? I was the fair-haired boy—as long as everything worked their way. Who doesn’t like to be the fair-haired boy? Who doesn’t like applause?”
Peter deemed my proposed plan — driving 12 hours back east to Maine to glimpse my dreamed-of American landscape — completely unrealistic, and rightly so, as I realized with a sudden sense of shame. At the same time, I had the feeling that he really wanted me to see Detroit. And why not? It was just a few hours north, so we could get there this afternoon.
As we drove through the snow-covered landscape, surrounded by cars with smoke fluttering out of their exhaust pipes, under the gray-white sky, past rows of run-down buildings, interspersed with clumps of colorless trees standing in colorless fields, the feeling I got was that something here was over, that something had been emptied out and that nothing new had begun. But perhaps that was too harsh a judgment to pass on a whole country after spending three hours in it?
-From Part One of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel narrative across the United States of America for the New York Times Magazine. Knausgaard’s My Struggle, the bestselling and award-winning series of six autobiographical novels, are considered to be a breakthrough in style and format, winning a wide readership despite their some 3,500 pages in length. This portion of his American journey touches on the blight of Detroit, Nabokov’s Lolita, Kerouac, Vikings, and Minnesota’s hoax ancient archaeological Scandinavian artifact, the Kensington Runestone.
This story by Suzanne Snider—which details the fantastical rise and fall of John DeLorean, a former titan of the American automotive industry—first appeared in the June/July 2006 issue of Tokion. Snider is the founder/director of Oral History Summer School, and she is currently completing a nonfiction book about rival communes on adjacent land. Our thanks to Snider for allowing us to feature it on Longreads. Read more…
“The Dodge brothers already made two fortunes from their relationship with Ford, by 1913 they were not thrilled about continuing to make parts for the Model T. Ironically, by the time the T started selling in really huge numbers in the nineteen teens it was obsolete and being technologically surpassed by by more modern cars. The Dodges were good engineers, probably the best machinists in Detroit next to Henry Leland. The term ‘mechanical genius’ could have been coined for Horace Dodge and his brother John was almost as adept with his own management skills. By 1914 the Dodge brothers, who already owned and operated what was probably most advanced automotive plant in the world in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck, wanted to build modern machines.
“Not only were they tired of dealing with Henry’s eccentricities, and tired of building an old fashioned car, they knew that they were increasingly vulnerable having such a big customer, a customer that had already started making many components himself, on his path to making FoMoCo perhaps the most vertically integrated manufacturing company ever. One reason why people don’t know about the Dodges’ role in Ford history is because Ford was later famous for making every part of their cars, including the raw steel and glass. In the early days, though, Ford, like most automakers then, was an assembler, buying components and subassemblies. The Dodges supplied other automakers like Cadillac and Oldsmobile, but Ford represented the lion’s share of their business. So the Dodges had plenty of reasons in 1913 to jump before they were pushed and in July of that year they gave Henry Ford a year’s notice that they’d no longer be supplying him. Soon, the automotive world was abuzz with the news that Dodge Brothers would be making a Dodge car.”
Valerie Vande Panne is an independent journalist covering life and human interests. This week, she chose a series of articles to help give readers a better understanding of Detroit.
“As a journalist, I am often asked, ‘How do you cut through the noise?’ In other words, how do I sift through the thousands upon thousands of bits of information, ‘facts,’ media outlets, and organizations vying and manipulating to get my attention? One tool I rely on is credible sources—actual human beings, experts of any given field. It starts with curiosity: I read their work; I question everything.
“In the case of Detroit, there is one writer I turn to for understanding again and again—a woman who is so prolific, your heart beats with her words as you read, and you miss Detroit as if the city is a long lost lover who has broken your heart—though, perhaps, you’ve never even felt the Motor City’s aching concrete beneath your feet.
“Anna Clark’s words are gems of Detroit and offered to you with grace, so you too may intimately know this American city and her people.
“There’s been a lot of loud noise about Detroit these last few weeks, much of it from people who have never spent a moment breathing her air, and do not hold Detroit in their heart—how can one say what a place is, or what she needs, or what her people must do, when there is such a fundamental and profound disconnect?
“If you care to read anything about Detroit, I humbly suggest you make it one of, if not all three of these wordsmithed pieces of truth. Take them in, let them seep into you, and if it pleases you, lift Detroit with your spirit.”
Another perspective on the city’s struggles, and the attempts to revive it:
A recent New York Times article lauded Detroit as a ‘Midwestern Tribeca’ of socially aware folk; but off of its bustling main drag, Corktown is surrounded by Detroit’s burned-out industrial structures and houses, weedy lots, and subsidized housing. For every white entrepreneur in an inner-city neighborhood, a score of young, college-educated kids live in dense, hip suburbs like Royal Oak and Ferndale. The Detroit perceived by artists like Catie and Marianne — often from privileged, suburban backgrounds — is radically different from the city visible to EMS workers. I have doubts about the city’s oft-vaunted creative scene, which I was part of for much of the year: to what extent were we dancing to electro-pop while Detroit burned?