Kathryn Bigelow has taken some heat recently for her new film, “Detroit”. Some have questioned whether the Academy Award winner, being a white woman, was the appropriate director for the film about police brutality against black people. Now the film’s star, John Boyega, has stepped up to defend the filmmaker.
“Detroit” tells the true story of three black men who were allegedly killed by police at the Algiers Motel during the 12th Street Riot in 1967. Boyega stars as one of the young men brutalized during the incident.
A recent Variety story raised concerns about Bigelow’s ability to tell the story, asking, “How could Bigelow — a white woman raised just outside San Francisco by middle-class parents and educated at Columbia University — understand and illuminate that kind of raw experience?”
In an interview with Indiewire, Boyega did acknowledge his own trepidations. “I was shocked, actually,” he said, adding that there can be a “detachment” when white directors take on these sorts of stories, “which can sometimes cause controversy.”
“I just was like, ‘How does she come to that point where she was like, ‘I’m going to make this’?” said Boyega. “And I was glad that she did.”
It was apparently the research done by Bigelow and the film’s writer, Mark Boal, that made all the difference. “I know that her research process was very, very long, because we had to catch up with her,” Boyega said. “Everybody had to learn in a sense, and that was the connecting factor between all of us. We all didn’t know all the details — I knew about the uprising in Detroit, I didn’t know about [the Algiers Motel]. We all had to get there.”
“When we were auditioning, I got much more questions than I normally do at an audition,” he said about making the film. “The questions were like, ‘How do you feel in this situation? What are the natural turns? Okay, go with that. Okay, flow with this.’ She was just so collaborative, and I think that in itself is the key to sometimes tapping into a perspective or a culture that is different from yours.”
“For me, if you are serious about this and if you are approaching this with respect and integrity, you’ll be willing to listen, you’ll have the right people around you, and also you will give the actors — especially the black actors on set — the best opportunity to portray these characters,” Boyega added. “She did all of that. She approached it with respect, she had integrity. She was open to different ideas.”
In the Variety interview, Bigelow herself addressed whether she was the right person to tell the story, saying, “I thought, Am I the perfect person to tell this story? No. However, I’m able to tell this story, and it’s been 50 years since it’s been told.”