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"Detroit" film premiere brings Hollywood to the Fox Theatre
DETROIT -- Hanging around in or outside of Fox Theatre on Tuesday night, July 25, it was hard to believe that 50 years ago to the day the city was burning amidst civil unrest, with the National Guard patrolling streets filled with carnage and destruction.
Rest assured the atmosphere was decidedly different that the premiere for “Detroit,” Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about that time and specifically the events at the Algiers Motel, where three innocent black youths were killed and others were detained in a prolonged and torturous interrogation by police.
The mood was celebratory as Bigelow, screenwriter/producer Mark Boal and nearly 20 cast members -- along with three of the real-life Algiers survivors they portrayed and other luminaries -- turned out for the first-ever film premiere at the Fox. The troupe had been in town since Sunday, doing interviews and visiting the Motown Museum, a park on the site where the unrest began, American Coney Island, the Gleaners Community Food Bank and more, and its connection to the city was palpable as they arrived for Tuesday’s premiere.
“It’s a full circle feeling,” actor Peyton Smith noted in the Fox lobby, decorated with murals by local artists that were commissioned by the filmmakers and were also posted around the city. “We were supposed to do it this way. We were supposed to come back here and tell people to reinvest in Detroit and get involved in Detroit. We can’t just make a movie and just leave. That’s not how this works.”
Bigelow said that being in Detroit 50 years after the events in “Detroit” – which begins showing Friday, July 28, at the Star John R in Madison Heights and the Bel Air Luxury Cinema in Detroit, and opens wide on Augg. 4 -- was “very surreal. It’s a very resilient city. It’s coming back to life and that’s really a testament to the people of Detroit. The emotional outpouring is profound, and that’s exciting.”
Much of “Detroit” was actually filmed in Boston, which Bigelow said was due to the disappearance of Michigan’s film incentives the year before production began. “I assumed it would come back because I think it would be an incredible asset to the city, but it didn’t’ happen, so we went to Massachusetts,” she said, though a few scenes were still shot in Detroit.
“Detroit’s” cast and crew was also keenly aware on Tuesday of the dichotomy between the powerful, provocative and brutally violent nature of the film and the celebratory nature of the premiere. “It’s obviously not an ‘Omigod, this is so great!’ kind of attitude,” noted Hannah Murray, who plays Julie Delaney, one of the two young white women who was also detained at the Algiers -- and who was in attendance at the premiere. “But I am really excited to share the movie with people and I’m excited to see how they respond to it. It’s such an important story to tell and a film people have a responsibility to see.”
Jacob Latimore added that, “I think it’s important for us to just spread love over these types of stories. This is a raw, uncomfortable truth. It’s a story we have to grow from, and we just wanted to show that things haven’t changed with these issues.”
In addition to Delaney -- who said that “the power of the people that live (in Detroit) and this movie is going to make a difference” -- real-life “Detroit” characters in attendance included Cleveland Larry Reed, whose post-traumatic stress from the Algiers incident led him to quit the band and devote himself to church music, and Melvin Dismukes, the private security guard played by John Boyega.
“It’s crazy,” Boyega said. “I went to the Motown museum today. I’m going through places that have such a rich history. Detroit is blessed with some rich history; that I get to be part of that in some way is a massive thing -- like this theater. Loads of stars have come through these doors and I’m one of them, and I can’t even sing. For me it just feels good. it feels really, really good.”
The film personnel were joined on Tuesday by: Motown star Martha Reeves, who’s also depicted in the film; former Detroit Police Chief and Deputy Mayor Ike McKinnon, who was shot at eight times during the uprising; current Police Chief James Craig, who was a 10-year-old living in the precinct where the violence began; and author and radio personality Michael Eric Dyson, who applauded the film as “an extraordinary achievement” and Bigelow as “a hero for telling this story” during his opening remarks before the screening.
All acknowledged the heavy emotional impact “Detroit” made on them but felt the film, and premiere, were positive nonetheless.
“We’re not celebrating the actions that occurred; We are remembering 50 years ago what happened and the fact that we’ve rebounded from it, and there are a great number of people happy this is happening in Detroit,” McKinnon said. “I hope people will see the movie and understand this was one moment in Detroit’s history. Detroit is not judged by this. We hope they’ll see there’s some great people in our great city and we’ve turned around from all these things that occurred.”
And the film premiere? “It’s great for our city,” McKinnon said. “We want more.”
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