Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t think she was the ‘perfect person’ to direct ‘Detroit’

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In the coming days and weeks, prepare yourselves for many thinkpieces about and analyses of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. Bigelow is the only woman who has ever won an Oscar for Best Director, and she’s one of the few women in Hollywood to carve out a consistent place as mainstream director for over two decades. She’s dealt with more than her fair share of criticism over the past decade, mostly for her last two feature films, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Would those films have been *as* criticized if a man had directed them? I still don’t know. But I do know that Bigelow seems comfortable with being in a hornet’s nest of controversy now, no matter what the film. Detroit is going to be something different though, because it’s a story about race, and because Bigelow is a white director telling a story about race. To her credit, Bigelow tells Variety (via People) in a new cover story that of course she doesn’t think she was the right person to tell this story:

Whether she should tell the story: “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.”

When she decided to do the film: Bigelow learned of screenwriter Mark Boal’s script for Detroit after a grand jury declined to prosecute Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown in 2015 — and the decision convinced her that this story needed to be told. “With the events unfolding today, the story needed to see the light of day. My hope is that a dialogue comes out of this film that can begin to humanize a situation that often feels very abstract.”

How her films are often met with controversy: “I always feel that the purpose of art is to agitate for change, but you can’t change anything if you’re not aware of it. My own personal concerns are at the service of the importance to tell the story. I’m compelled to make emotionally, socially, and politically challenging pieces. That’s what intrigues me.”

On seeing so few women directors succeed: “It’s a travesty. I feel like it’s trending in the right direction, but it’s painfully slow, and where’s that inequity coming from? That’s a big and complicated sociological question.”

She hasn’t seen Wonder Woman yet: Though Bigelow is “thrilled” Patty Jenkins achieved blockbuster success with Wonder Woman, she sheepishly admitted she hasn’t been able to see the comic book movie yet: “I’ve been so busy, but I want to.”

[From People]

I lot of conservatives throw around the term “white guilt” derisively, as an insult to liberals and progressively who work alongside communities of color to affect change. White guilt is a real thing though, and I think Bigelow feels it, just as many white mothers can look at the Mothers of the Movement and genuinely feel a sense of “what if that happened to my child?” Just because Bigelow is a white woman, does that mean she can’t feel a sense of outrage, disgust and anger that a white cop killed a black child or adult? Of course she can feel those things. Empathy is something to be celebrated, and I feel like Bigelow is trying to be an effective ally.

The issue, in my mind, is this: “I thought, ‘Am I the perfect person to tell this story? No.’ However, I’m able to tell this story.” The thing is, there are black directors facing the same kind of structural inequality that Bigelow has faced (and still faces) in Hollywood. It would have been great for Bigelow to executive produce and shepherd this film with a black director attached. But I also sort of understand how that happened – she wanted to tell the story, and I feel like the criticism of Bigelow telling a “black story” wouldn’t be so harsh if she was a white male director. I don’t know. There’s a lot of sh-t going on here.

Toure at the Daily Beast also examines in a new piece whether white artists/directors can create black art – go here to read.

New York premiere of 'The Dark Tower' - Arrivals

Photos courtesy of Getty, cover courtesy of Variety.

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28 Responses to “Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t think she was the ‘perfect person’ to direct ‘Detroit’”

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  1. Nicole says:

    Hmm I have a few friends that actually saw the movie and thought it was well done. So that’s great. Also love that they held the premiere in Detroit. Would I love for black directors to take on these projects? Absolutely. But I also think if someone sensitive to the material is going to do it justice I’m okay with that too. There are opportunities to hire black actors, writers and producers to round out the people around the movie.
    It’s not about saying white directors can never work on these movies. I wish Hollywood gave directors of color these chances too.

  2. Mia4s says:

    As a companion piece to this might I recommend this review by a female African American critic?

    To be clear though, she despised the movie. Hated it. And I absolutely understand why.

    I won’t be seeing this. I acknowledge the importance of the issue and the event but I have less than zero desire to sit through a film of African Americans (and white women) being brutalized by authorities for two hours with no resolution….I can watch the evening news for that.

    • rachel says:

      Thanks for the article. I think Ira Madison also disliked the movie. Some critics compared Detroit to an horror film so…

    • V4Real says:

      I don’t know if the entire movie was based on actual events but sometimes in true life stories there is no resolution

      • Mia4s says:

        It is based on actual events, they just changed some names. The Algiers Motel incident (less so on any of the rest of what went on during the overall riots). Information is readily available on it.

        And yes I’m well aware that real events don’t always have a resolution. I’m saying that I don’t feel like grabbing my popcorn combo and pretzel bites to watch several young African American men brutalized and menaced before being summarily murdered by authorities, or the white women they happened to be at the hotel with stripped of their clothes, humiliated, and beaten. And then (spoiler alert) the victims get no justice or resolution. Not guilty verdicts all around! Sorry but that’s not a summer evening at the movies for me, particularly not just so I can confirm I know racism and police brutality are bad. Yeah…it’s really bad. I know. To each their own but I’m not interested.

      • Megan says:

        My parents lived in Detroit when this happened. My mom strongly objects to a fictionized version of events. She thinks there is a great deal the public still does not know and she would prefer an in-depth investigation by journalists to something from the entertainment industry.

    • Radley says:

      I think being left upset and at a loss is kind of the point. This is what people lived through and are still living through. It’s not the feel good movie of the summer. It’s supposed to hurt and make you think and maybe even inspire a little action–a little change.

      I have to be in the right frame of mind to see movies like this. I put off seeing Twelve Years a Slave until I was feeling really good so it would counterbalance the ugliness I was about to see. I’d never complain that a movie was too heavy when it’s based on a true story and you know the background. I mean, what do people expect??

  3. rachel says:

    Is that a new talking point in Hollywood?I wasn’t the right person but I still did it? I swear Andrew Garfield said the same thing for his role in the Broadway play. Anyway so far the movie doesn’t suffer major controversies, we’ll see if it’s stay that way when Oscar season really begin.

  4. V4Real says:

    I’m torn, what if people said Black directors shouldn’t direct White films. I guess Antoine Fuqua wouldn’t have directed King Arthur or Shooter. I get tthat some believe a White person can’t tell a Black person’s struggle but some can. The director set the direction of the film, the Black actors are the ones challenged with conveying the emotion, strength and struggle of the Black character.

    Im glad she took on this project, can’t wait to see it. Look and learn Sofia Coppola

    • Aiobhan Targaryen says:

      What is this comparison? Neither King Arthur or Shooter are the same as Detroit. King Arthur and Shooter are frothy action flicks that are purely for entertainment and distraction for two hours. Detroit is not even remotely in the same genre. The argument many critics are trying to make is not that white people cannot tell black stories (David Simon seems to have made a niche career out of telling black stories) or vice versa (this rarely happens btw), but that if you are going to tell dramas about race you need to tell them with conviction and substance. You cannot just sit back and show violence and just leave it at that. That seems to be the problem with the film: It is a violent and hollow spectacle that does not connect the dots between race, masculinity, and the justice system. In this case, she WAS wrong for this type of film because of her storytelling style. Her perspective is usually a fly on the wall blunt style of storytelling. She shows you what happened but does not add much else. Who was this film made for? White people? Black People? If this was meant for blacks then it was a waste of time. This is just another story in a long line of violent stories about black people, nothing new to see here. If it was meant for whites, it was also a waste of time because it does not seem to want to challenge white people to think outside of the box with regards to race and how they were taught to view race and the justice system.

      This film could have been important because police brutality is still a huge issue in our community to this day. This is not something that just happened in the past and eventually corrected itself. It is still happening now and still no one is really being held accountable but the victims of the crimes.

  5. Surely Wolfbeak says:

    How does Bigelow use her art to “agitate for change?” By making it seem that torture can lead to useful information in Zero Dark Thirty? That said, I love Near Dark.

  6. Megan says:

    Sophia Coppola was criticized for not trying to tell a slave’s story, Bigelow is criticized for trying to tell an African American’s story.

    • At says:

      Um, no she’s not?
      The criticism was HOW she told it, not THAT she told it.

      • V4Real says:

        Yes she is. Read the article Mia4s posted. And even Black directors get criticized for Black films. Ava was criticized by some for getting the facts wrong with Selma.

      • At says:

        So one person speaks for all African Americans? No doubt there will always be that one person who has a problem with a white director telling black stories, but to dismiss valid points and brush it off as not wanting white directors to tell these stories at all….? Steven Spielberg did a great job with color purple.
        I rarely, if ever, hear complaints about his take on the color purple.
        People get criticised all the time, why should a white woman be exempt?

    • Basny Snow says:

      True Megan and then there is Angelina Jolie(i know i know i am not in support of her casting method) but were it be a man would he have been critcised like Jolie? A man would have been lauded and drums of oscar would have began.. someone like Jolie faced criticism for in the land of blood and honey, unbroken and now her lastest movie
      what am i trying to say? Women directors are barely given a chance to succeed in Hollywood.

      • Megan says:

        @Basny I am hard pressed to believe a male director would have been above criticism for the casting process on First They Killed My Father.

      • magnoliarose says:

        I consider myself a feminist but I will never explain away criticism based on gender unless it is clear. This means when a woman does something like she did she has to endure her mistake. I refuse to use that as an excuse. She wasn’t targeted because she was a woman. She is held to a higher standard because she is a humanitarian and should know better.
        A man would have been blasted too because the act was wrong.

  7. HK9 says:

    She did the job that I think all good directors should do-try to tell the story, the best way they know how. She didn’t shy away from it. As a black woman I respect her for that. I don’t expect ‘perfection’ I expect the same effort that would go into telling any story. I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge, those who have can state their opinion. And like any good director, those opinions can be used as a frame of reference to inform what she does going forward.

  8. CityGirl says:

    I am really torn about this movie. I think it is a very important story and needs to be told. I also feel like this movie must be supported so that these (very painful) stories continue being told – I don’t think they can heal the pain caused by our country’s racist past, but surely they can work towards ensuring our our country’s racist history doesn’t repeat itself, ANYMORE. I just know this movie will destroy me to watch, but given what the victims of racism, past as well as current, endure(d), I probably should just get over myself and support the movie.

  9. Juliaoc says:

    I saw this picture and thought, “OMG. What did Leann Rimes do to her face?”

  10. Radley says:

    I have no problem with a white director as long as they bring the passion, smarts and know-how to the project. Honestly, some white people are more woke than some people of color. Compare Kathryn and Ben Carson for example.

    There needs to be more opportunities for all marginalized people in every field in showbiz. But I don’t wanna pit marginalized group against marginalized group. That leaves us fighting over one thing while the white guys grab everything else. However, we do need to call each other out when we screw up like Sofia Coppola.

    I saw Kathryn on The Daily Show last night and I was impressed with her comments.

  11. Tourmaline says:

    When I saw the thumbnail I thought it was Leann Rimes!

  12. Snowpea says:

    OMG I thought that was Leann Rimes!

  13. Marianne says:

    Personally I think its kind of limiting that black directors names only pop up for black films or women directors popping up for women/feminist films and so forth. I think if you have a good story to tell, then you should tell it.