The world premiere of the movie Detroit was held on July 25 and yet it left this lifelong Motor City resident feelin’ some kinda way.
Its director, Kathryn Bigelow, strongly requested that the motion picture based largely on the horrific events of the Algiers Motel murders of July 1967 debut in Detroit as opposed to Hollywood.
And so it was: The premiere along with the typical Hollywood red carpet treatment was held at downtown’s Fox Theatre. From the looks of my Facebook timeline, some of my friends and associates were there. By all accounts, it was a public relations success.
It reminded me of the world premiere 30 years ago of “Beverly Hills Cop II,” which was partially set in Detroit and co-starred the late Gil Hill, former Detroit police homicide detective and City Council president.
The “Beverly Hills Cop” event was similar to the “Detroit” event. Festive and lots of fanfare. The difference, of course, was that the Eddie Murphy film was a comedy and fictional; “Detroit,” on the other hand, dealt with perhaps our city’s darkest hour—and it really happened.
I wasn’t invited to the “Detroit” screening and there’s no way I would have attended as it was planned and carried out. Something about skinnin’ and grinnin’ for cameras at a red carpet event and later watching the blood on the walls of the Algiers Motel doesn’t feel right.
Here’s the backstory:
During the 1967 Rebellion, a violent and controversial scene takes place at the Algiers, located on Woodward Avenue at Virginia Park. Three young African-American men—Fred Temple, Carl Cooper and Aubrey Pollard—are killed and two white women as well as seven other black men are brutally beaten, either by city police or United States national guardsmen.
The incident went down after word had it that a gunman or group of gunmen had been seen at or near the motel. None of the officers charged in connection with the incident were convicted.
Families grieved; officers walked.
Born later that year, I have learned about the incident over the course of my life from family and friends. I don’t need a Hollywood movie and red carpet event to educate me about an important event in Detroit’s history like the Algiers Motel murders.
What’s more, I think the insensitive red carpet display was disrespectful to the memory of the people involved. Obviously, I didn’t know the three black young men. However, my parents as well as uncles and aunts grew up with Carl Cooper. One of my uncles pointed out to me this week that he received a pair of tennis shoes from Carl’s family. So, in an indirect way, the Algiers Motel incident his special meaning me.
And it should have special meaning to all of us. So much as so that we wouldn’t cheapen it with red carpet selfies and high school prom-like banter. I believe that we as blacks should chronicle and tell our own story—and not leave it to whites and others. But that requires that we place our story above the bright lights of a Hollywood-type movie premiere.
After all, three families lost their someone dear to them on July 26, 1967. It’s nothing to skin and grin about.
Ken Coleman is an author and historian who writes frequently about Detroit life in Detroit