Racial relations have always been tumultuous in Detroit. From the influx of KKK members in the early 20th century to the numerous race riots that have brought the city to its knees, Detroit has frequently had issues dealing with its racial division. It’s a sad state of affairs that has, unfortunately, not become much better since that hot week in July in 1967. Sparked by the arrests of nearly eighty individuals busted in an illegal bar, the riots lasted for days, leaving dozens killed, hundreds injured and thousands of buildings destroyed. It was, at the time, the most expensive riot that any American city had known.
But in today’s day and age, few individuals know of the riot. They may have heard of it, but not the disturbing lead up to it and the racial relevancy of it. To many, it is one of many riots that had shaken America during the late 1960s. But few realize how much the 1967 Detroit riot showcases the unstable racial relationship that America has with African Americans. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit serves as a reminder that no matter how far American society has come, there is still a great deal more to do. Malcolm David Kelly, Peyton Alex Smith, Hannah Murray and Katlyn Dever sat down with The Knockturnal’s Chasity Saunders to talk about the relevancy of the film today, their time working on the film and the importance of today’s generation seeing the film. Check out what they had to say below.
There’s a part in the film where one of the victim’s family members, after the police are found not guilty, says to the press, you know, “If this had been 2 black girls in a hotel with a bunch of white men, this wouldn’t have happened.” Where do you stand as far as the ‘All Lives Matter’ versus ‘Black Lives Matter’ after having a personal experience as actresses that encounter the effects of racism?
Kaitlyn Dever: Yeah, that was a big shock for me reading the script, but I think that it is so heart-breaking. The fact that interracial marriage was still illegal in some states at the time is shocking. I think that it is so important that we shine light on that. When the police come in and see us, they just automatically start making assumptions.
It’s pretty hard to watch.
Kaitlyn Dever: Yeah.
Hannah Murray: Yeah, I think it’s so tragic when you see the innocence of these girls at the beginning of the movie and how they’re just there hanging out. They just want to have fun. They love Motown music; they just want to have a good time. And the way in which that gets twisted is sickening. I feel the ugliness of the police’s gaze on them is so corrupting and horrible.
Absolutely, and each of you bring you’re A-game to this film. It was so brutally harsh to watch, but how did you guys prepare for your roles? After reading the script, did you know what you signed up for and how did you prepare to create and bring these real-life people back to life on camera?
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, it was definitely difficult, but it was also a learning experience. But being with such great people, a great cast, and Kathryn Bigelow, I felt just very comfortable being there. There were good people around me, and I know there’s a lot of trust on set. We’re still dealing with this today, and it was only 50 years ago. A lot of emotions were running through us the whole time while we were filming on set. In doing the history homework, we definitely didn’t know about this particular situation at the Algiers Motel.
Yeah, neither did I. It was all new. It was new to you guys too?
Malcolm Kelley: Yeah, it was an eye-opener. This particular situation, and everything that happened at the magnitude it did was crazy. To be able to bring that to light in a big scale, it’s going to be amazing to start a lot of conversation, I think, which is important.
For sure. Peyton, your character, literally broke my heart. I’m going to tell everybody that goes to see this film, “Take a box of tissues with you.” There were moments where I had to turn away and close my eyes. Even walking out of the theater, I thought about your character, and it was just heart-breaking. You know what I mean, to know that you were in a position where you couldn’t do anything. So, why do you think that it’s important to, especially for millennials, to go out and see this film, to see a piece of our history?
Peyton Smith: I think it’s important because we haven’t got a chance to actually really talk about it. We didn’t really know about this situation. So, we don’t know what these kids went through. So, you can go out there and say “Oh, I wouldn’t be in the fields picking cotton back in slavery.” But I was never hit with a whip.
Peyton Smith: So, you know, I can’t say I would’ve reacted or I would’ve stood up to the police during the Detroit riots or the rebellion because I wasn’t there. It meant a lot to me to tap into that and I think our generation needs to see that. Although you think you’re big and bad, just think if you were in that time. So, if we’re going to change, we have to realize and start sparking conversation, and again, hearing people.
All of you guys are not necessarily new because we’ve seen you, Game of Thrones and different things, but what do you think is the importance of signing on to stories and projects like this in 2017? Because even though this happened 50 years ago, it’s still very relevant today. We still see a lot of police brutality and as artists, I feel like it’s our responsibility to use our platform so, why do guys feel that it is important to continue to sign onto projects such as this one?
Peyton Smith: It’s a must.
Hannah Murray: Yeah, I feel like the whole reason I care about art as both as an audience member and as an actor is because it can affect change hopefully and make a difference in the way people feel about the world that we live in. I think we all want to work on projects that mean something to people, and that have that relevance to the present day as well.
Peyton Smith: Trayvon Martin’s people might see this. Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland. All this people are going see this and that’s going mean something to me because I feel they’re going be able to connect to that. This was like my baby and this was what my baby went through. So, I feel like that alone is enough for me to do it.
For sure. Well, the film’s tag line is “It’s time we knew.” So, I’m glad that you guys stepped up to play these roles. They’re dynamic. Amazing job and I can’t wait for people to see it.
Check Detroit when it hits theaters August 4.