Despite some concern regarding historical accuracy, “Detroit” is a gripping account of a racially charged part of history.

Courtesy Photo

The mega successful Academy Award-winning duo of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal team up for a third time in this true 1967 civil unrest story. The director and screenwriter from “The Hurt Locker” (2009) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2013) once again raise viewer eyebrows over what’s fact and fiction in their big-screen adaptation. Regardless, “Detroit” proves to be a film that grabs your attention as we watch urban race relations boil into death and destruction.

“Detroit” takes us back 50 years to the 12th Street Riots, when local police break-up an unlicensed, after-hours bar. Black protesters gather and turn violent to resist and bring attention to growing racial unrest. As tensions escalate in the city over the next five days, National Guard troops, U.S. Army 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, Michigan Highway Patrol and Detroit police all attempt to regain control as the violence spirals into a war zone.

In one of the most disturbing movie accounts in recent years, “Detroit” may be too much and too soon for Americans overwhelmed by the current Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter battle on U.S. highways and streets. It’s here, in the real world, where the facts and truth must be debated and presented accurately by filmmakers and the media. No more misleading “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogans and conjecture of events like the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

“Detroit” and Bigelow lose some historical street credibility as challenges to the movie’s accuracy is sparked by a vague, post-film disclaimer that appears to cast doubt on some facts and testimony. Changing the names of the real characters shouldn’t translate into changing history using a director’s creative license. This country, and those who survived the five days of riots, deserve nothing less than full transparency. Bigelow herself has admitted to “moments of fiction” in this latest interpretative film, underscoring the dramatization of the true event.    

With 50 years of hindsight and police actions never more scrutinized than today, “Detroit” needed to get this story 100 percent right. The 12th Street Riots killed 43 people and injured nearly 1,200. More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed in less than one week. Everyone will leave this film angry. Upset that five decades later, the same accusations and disturbing behavior exists in American neighborhoods. 

Bigelow deserves credit for illustrating how important it is for both sides of the race riots to police themselves. Blacks attempt to stop looting and violence in black neighborhoods, while white police officers arrest and charge bad cops. Each side’s violence, though, promulgated by the unlawful few. Bigelow’s torture scenes in “Zero Dark Thirty” pale in comparison to the harmful events that unfold inside the Algiers Motel, as seven black men and two white women are victimized by several white police officers. Perhaps it’s that raw depiction of events, despite small bouts of fiction, that will further our national conversation on race relations to avoid repeating this painful chapter in our country’s history. 

Grade: B+

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the REEL BRIEF movie blog at  You may email him at

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