Should White Filmmakers Be Telling the Story of ‘Detroit’?

Kathryn Bigelow Detroit
Francois Duhamel/Anapurna/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Do white filmmakers have the right to make a movie like “Detroit”? The moral right, that is? Set during the Detroit riots of 1967, the movie tells an essential true story about the brutalization of African-Americans. The fact that the issue of the filmmakers’ race is out there at all — and will be even more so now that the critically acclaimed drama has finally opened wide — tells you how far we’ve travelled as a society from just a few years ago: toward a heightened sensitivity about who controls the levers of expression in America, and toward rigorous new codes of conduct built around issues of race, gender, and sexual identity.

The reason I ask whether white filmmakers have the right is that if we’re going to discuss the topic at all, we shouldn’t kid ourselves: The flavor of absolutism is in the air. The fact that some have questioned whether Kathryn Bigelow, the director of “Detroit,” and the film’s screenwriter, Mark Boal, were the right people to be making this movie should, theoretically, feed into a healthy debate. Yet the thirst for social justice — on campuses, on social media, in other arenas — has led, with increased frequency, to an atmosphere in which speech, attitudes, and actions are held up to the light and…well, policed. Something doesn’t have to be against the law for it to be branded taboo.

The debate over the ownership of ethnic narrative may now be spreading into the world of movies, like a brush fire, from the world of literature, where it is rapidly becoming conventional wisdom that it’s wrong for a writer to “appropriate” the experiences of those of a different race. Professors have been fired in recent months for supporting the opposing argument. Yet one has to ask: Is this where we now want the world of popular culture to be going?

If you believe, as I do, that the answer is no, then the first issue to raise is where one would even draw the line. “Detroit” uses the 1967 riot to reenact, as the film’s central dramatic episode, a notorious night of hell that took place in the Algiers Motel, where a group of black citizens were terrorized — and three were murdered — by white police officers. The movie is a psychological excavation of the roots of police brutality; it’s a work of crusading social and political conscience. But let’s imagine, for a moment, that we were talking about a serious drama of African-American life that wasn’t rooted in the cataclysm of racial conflict. Who would have the right to direct that movie? Do you see, rather quickly, where this all goes? To a place of culturally determined slots that’s not only restrictive but racially pigeonholed in the very ways that it seeks to fight against.

The debate over “Detroit,” which has yet to explode into a full-blown incendiary media controversy (though it could at any moment), is driven, to a degree, by the fundamental question of Hollywood’s hiring practices — an issue that needs, more than ever, to be pushed to the center of the radar. Even in 2017, the relative lack of diversity among filmmakers, producers, and executives with greenlight power remains a stark and scandalous fact. If you don’t believe that Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal should be the ones to make a movie like “Detroit,” then the clear implication is that African-American filmmakers should be out there telling stories like this one. That they aren’t — at least, not often — emerges from the fact that there aren’t enough black filmmakers in Hollywood.

Fifty years ago, the Canadian-born director Norman Jewison made “In the Heat of the Night,” a major Hollywood movie that presented a bold new power dynamic of black/white relationships: stalwart black detective, stubborn redneck police chief, a famously mutual slap in the face in place of the usual kowtowing dance. At the time, there were no mainstream African-American directors at all, and few people would have even given a thought to the issue. That “In the Heat of the Night” got made by anyone was a giant leap forward. Even as fearless an observer as James Baldwin believed that the movie channeled a revolutionary shift.

But fast forward 25 years — to 1992, which was 25 years ago. We were in the middle of the independent film revolution, and one of its many glories was to bring in sensibilities that had not been heard at full blast before: cutting-edge gay voices like Todd Haynes, women’s voices like those of Nancy Savoca and Allison Anders, African-American voices like those of Spike Lee and the Hughes brothers. With all that creative ferment going on, when the time finally came to produce a large-scale biopic about Malcolm X, who did Hollywood turn to?

It turned to Norman Jewison. Again.

There was something wrong with that picture. Cries of protest went up, without even — yes — any Internet to spread them; going viral was something the analog world knew how to do just fine. As the protest attained a critical mass, it became clear that a change needed to be made, and Jewison, graciously stepping aside, was replaced by Spike Lee, who responded by turning the life story of Malcolm X, played (indelibly) by Denzel Washington, into a blazingly spectacular film.

Hollywood had done the right thing. It felt unassailable to say: The life story of black America’s most revolutionary postwar leader should, indeed, be directed by an African-American filmmaker. Yet what, exactly, was the precedent being set? Can we draw a direct line from the story of the “Malcolm X” movie to “Detroit” and say: Why not a black filmmaker here?

I raise the question only to illustrate how complex it is. When it comes to the possession of subjects and the freedom of expression, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. Yet let’s look at “Detroit.” A tumultuous panorama of the 1967 riot, it’s at heart a story about the black experience of the police, and it’s a harrowing and morally unsettling movie, because it captures, with a screw-tightening you-are-there relentlessness, the fear and rage and sick dread and horror of what it is to experience law enforcers as racist bullies and violent brutes. These are realities that African-Americans understand in a different — deeper — way than white Americans do.

Yet what Kathryn Bigelow, a brilliant and humane hair-trigger filmmaker, has done is to re-create that experience — to imagine it, to place herself and the audience inside it — as a powerful act of empathy, and as a cleansing act of art. I would argue that she has used her knowledge, and imagination, to step over the boundaries of her own experience and enter the lives of others. That’s what great filmmakers do. That’s what artists do.

Do we now want to live in a watchdog state of artistic correctness in which even adventurous filmmakers don’t have the right to do that? In which it’s frowned upon, discouraged, and branded “appropriation” for someone to make a movie representing those of a different race? My view is that we should always use a moment like this one as a clarion call for the equality of opportunity. But what movies, more than any other art form, have taught us is the equality of empathy. And maybe the one rule we should strive for is to say that no one of any race, gender, or sexuality owns any story. That the only factor that should dictate who tells it is, ultimately, the power of the telling.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 121

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. ctrent29 says:

    It seems as if BOTH right-wingers and left-wingers are against this movie. Why? Why are so many people afraid of seeing this movie, let alone acknowledging about what it is about? Why should the race of the director or screenwriter matter if the story is mainly from the POV of those concerned? I get the feeling that so many people from opposite sides of the political spectrum are creating so many excuses to either avoid seeing this film or to judge it in a negative way. WHY? What is everyone – both left and right – afraid of?

  2. dome says:

    I like Katherine Bigelow as a director and I am sure she is a nice woman. However, I do question stories like this been told or written non black directors.I am sure she will do a good job but there are so many brilliant black directors male or female out there that are capable of telling this story.
    I am sure the actors including my fellow Brit will come out and support the director and film rightly so. I just feel that there should be fair play here, what if its the other way round,are we going to have an African American director telling their stories. Until then my take let African Americans tell their stories.

  3. Phillip Crowner says:

    This entire movie is a piece of textbook propaganda backed by poor and sometimes absolute false history. At no point in time did this movie reflect on the actuality of Detroit as documented by studies, polls and stories of the true persons that lived there. I’m not here to start an argument or to defend these absolute vicious police officers trying to subdue violence in an unacceptable and deplorable manor but I am here to encourage people to do some serious research as to why I and many other individuals feel this way. Detroit has been democratic and under African American leadership since the 60’s and it has only gotten exponentially worse. As a black man that grew up in Detroit in the 80s I can assure you I was a victim of my own people which fed off their own self inflicted injustice. If anything I feel this movie will motivate racism and cause social injustice due to the lack of fact checking and sadly people believing everything they see. The world has always been plagued with ignorance and blessed with awesomeness and it will continue to be like that forever.

  4. Tracy says:

    As a poor white girl living in Cass corridor in Detroit In the 90s, i can comment on the racial injustice that continues to live on in case corridor. Blacks continue to be feared and discriminated against. The blacks need to get off “the man is out to get me” mentality. Whether you are any race or ethnicicity life is about discrimination and working hard to fight back. Discrimination is beyond race..religion. Fat skinny there is always something where you don’t hav that star upon thars. It is how you choose to del with it that you s imprtant..

    • Marie says:

      Maybe they’ll learn to get out of the “victim mentality” once you learn how to spell.

      • SheilaB says:

        Don’t be a dick, Marie. She prefaced her comments with language that would allow the more educated commentor amongst us to infer that maybe she doesnt have an MBA from Yale. Or did that little tidbit evade you?

  5. Kay says:

    My answer is another question…why would a white filmmaker even want to

  6. says:

    You’re an idiot.

  7. lucydina42 says:

    Anyone should be able to tell a story. It’s as simple as that. What happens afterward is how the audience reacts to the storytelling. There’s the debate forum. That’s what art is all about.

  8. S says:

    Identity politics is poison. There is no white person math or Asian feelings. Your identity, which in these cases is reduced to only race and sex, does not change reality. Yes, your experiences may provide you with certain insights or information which people with different experiences may not have, but the operative word here is “may,” because it is incorrect to claim that information is in principle somehow inaccessible to others simply because their identity is different (in fact, it is a form of racism and sexism).

    • John says:

      “Yes, your experiences may provide you with certain insights or information which people with different experiences may not have, but the operative word here is “may,” because it is incorrect to claim that information is in principle somehow inaccessible to others simply because their identity is different (in fact, it is a form of racism and sexism).”

      Totally agree.

      You just need to take a look at Sofia Coppola’s version of “The Beguiled” to understand, that being a woman doesn’t mean, that you ‘understand’ women better.than Don Siegel did.

      Some of the best films about America are made by Europeans.

      Ang Lee is not gay – as far as I know – but he made some of the most popular films about gays ever: “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Wedding Banquet”.

      Sometimes it’s good, when someone from the ‘outside’ tells the story of something he has no first-hand knowledge of.

      Distance is not always a bad thing.

      Everybody is allowed to tell any story. It just needs to ring true.

  9. Nicolas says:

    Who gives a shit white or black. The fact the story was told is ALL thats relavant!!! HATS OF TO LIGHT, & TRUTH, FREE SPEECH

  10. Piper Burks says:

    OMG, this is NOT the story of Detroit! It IS The Algiers Motel Incident! It does NOT define Detroit! It is a tragic story of multiple murders by the Detroit Police and a GROSS miscarriage of justice by the Michigan judicial system. Also, the tragedy as it relates to today is it is still happening all over this country.

  11. MM2K says:

    We aren’t sitting beside a campfire telling the stories of our ancestors. To suggest that a director with the qualifications as Kathryn Bigelow couldn’t understand, or get the raw emotions to make ‘Detroit’ is suggesting a lot of things that just aren’t true in fine filmmaking. Does Nolan have to have fought in Dunkirk to film that? Does Spielberg have to have freed slaves to direct ‘Lincoln’?

    It’s a movie where you are given a choice on whether to see it or not. If the movie is not to your liking, say so. If you don’t want to go see it because you think it should be made by someone who also wasn’t there, but black, then you have that right too.

    But it’s not racism. Racism would be if she got it wrong, but said, “who cares what you think?”. Racism would be, “You’re a black man, you can’t direct a movie about a white woman.”

  12. Mike says:

    Of course white people can tell the story of black oppression and vice versa. To suggest otherwise is a form of racism in itself.

  13. spark8000 says:

    This is terrible. Racism is bad, so why are only black people able to spread that message? If we truly don’t want to live in a racist society, it wouldn’t matter the race of the person who made the movie.

  14. This article is tripe! To destroy an artist’s project out of ignorance makes you just as guilty as those bigots in white sheets.

  15. monotreme02 says:

    Wow. Scrolling through the comments, the amount of people who didn’t actually read the article and are still posting enraged comments about the exact OPPOSITE point that the article made, is truly sickening to me. I would say “shocking” but I’m not shocked.

    In this day and age, this is just where we are at: bingeing media content like it’s fast food, and not actually taking the time to properly engage with something before we formulate an opinion on it. And it really is a sad truth that every single person who commented on this article – which does bring up a very sensitive and complicated subject, without a doubt – as though it endorses the question it poses in its headline, just outed themselves as a moron who couldn’t even be bothered to read it. It’s pathetic.

    • schavel2014 says:

      Oh my God you stole the words out of my mouth. For the short attention spanners out there, I want to reiterate what was just said: 1) Please read the entire article and comprehend its point of view before you comment; 2) See the actual movie before you make judgment as to whether Kathryn Bigelow was the right director for the film (hint: she was perfect). 3) Extra credit: Learn how to appreciate Owen Gleiberman’s complex writing voice before you reply back dumb, one-dimensional criticism.

  16. Veronica says:

    This whole article is absurd to me. Why does EVERYTHING in hollywood have to be about race these days? This horrible event took place 50 years ago, plenty of people could’ve stepped forward to create this film; did they?! KB is a well respected director and while I haven’t seen the film yet, I’m sure it will be told in a way that brings awareness to the wrongs these individuals and their families endured. If we were to really take this on – black stories could only be told by black people – then white stories could only be told by white people, Hispanic by Hispanic, etc. take it a step further-LGBTQ stories only told from the perspective of LGBTQ directors. This, my friends, would be an injustice as EVERYONE is entitled to tell a story from their viewpoint, and that’s what directors do!

  17. Jackson W says:

    The movie is a bust at the box office, just as all the other white-guilt movies of the past four years have been. Funny how the liberals seem to be behind the squashing of free speech and expression these days using race as their justification. Frankly, they destroy any discussion. It’s Stalinist intolerance on full display which is what the left if all about now.

  18. gurk shwaus says:

    stop with the whole white people suck. race does not exist so stop trying to incite a race war. white people can tell the story just as well as black people. it doesn’t matter who made the movie, it’s just a movie. i don’t care about cultural appropriation. that word shouldn’t even exist.

  19. pickles says:

    It’s just skin color remember?

  20. Harper says:

    For those people who think that Gleiberman is saying that Bigelow shouldn’t have made this movie, please at least read the last two paragraphs.

    Maybe I’m on the internet too much, but I have been reading people saying that Black Stories should be made by Black People, which I happen to agree with. There is a wealth of lived experiences that an artist can use to add depth to a work of art.

    Then I read some people say that Black Stories should be made SOLELY by Black People. That idea was expressed, curiously enough, in a way by Sofia Coppolla, when she discussed removing the black characters from The Beguiled. She stated that she didn’t feel that she was the right person to be telling those stories, which would be correct under the black stories solely by black people idea. So Coppolla told the story that she is very good at telling: a story about sheltered white genteel women. But that decision to eliminate any traces of blackness from the story led to people complain about white washing. It seems like, by going in this direction, people can’t win for trying.

  21. John Peters says:

    You are kidding, right? Now you want to use imaginary ownership rights of creative license to divide black and white Americans? The focus should be on whether the movie fairly depicts the subject of the film (since it is intended to be docu-drama) not on the color of those who produced it. Consider that no black producers or directors chose to make this film in the fifty years since the event. Consider also that whites, myself included, lived through this event as well.

  22. Val P says:

    Ohh. I forgot to add that I am a black female. Excellent storytelling and movie!

  23. Val P says:

    I saw the movie “Detroit” yesterday. I think KB did a tremendous job on this movie! God bless her for telling the story! The movie moved me to tears. The visuals were excellent, and the manner in which the story was told was as sensitive as possible to ALL players in the original incident.

  24. Daniel Wright says:

    Nobody can tell the constant stories of victimhood like the blacks. This movie will be an absolute bomb as most of America is tired of the same old, whites are the oppressors of the innocent black people of name a city narrative.

  25. Mary says:


  26. Flosse says:

    How can a white author write about a black issue? Or a black about a white issue? Can a female director handle a male action movie or an Asian a gay western? Are we really so colorblind that black stories can only be told by black people?
    Btw: where is the general outcry concerning The Dark Tower where the white gunslinger Roland is played by a black actor?

  27. Langston says:

    “Should White Filmmakers Be Telling the Story of ‘Detroit’?” Sure, after it’s socially acceptable & industry allowable for Black Filmmakers to tell the stories of white plight. Reminds me of an old adage amongst us writers of color– “They can write our stories but we can’t write theirs.” And please spare me with the anecdotal examples, statistically speaking, there’s no debate.

  28. Sade Daniels says:

    This would mean something if black people were given the same “creative license” to create white centered art. Many black filmmakers and writers are relegated to doing just black films. Even this idea of non politicized and limited creation is only afforded to white people. So, no. This article is pretty one dimensional, which ain’t shocking. Since only one voice matters and all.

  29. schavel2014 says:

    What in the world makes anyone think that Owen Gleiberman is not on Kathryn Bigelow’s side? On black peoples’ side? On white peoples’ side? On the side of common sense and justice? What terrifies me about reading other peoples’ comments is not that there’s going to be uncalled for racial vitriol by somebody who is nuts, no, it’s that there are going to be readers out there in this world completely tone-deaf in perceiving the message of the author completely. I suppose we could ask Gleiberman to talk to us like we’re four-year olds for now on. But I prefer not, Gleiberman is one of our most lucid authors in America. I happen to think “Detroit” is a masterpiece, by the way, and is such a seismic work of art I actually consider it the equal of “Do The Right Thing,” and I mean that (I rushed out to see “Detroit” after I read Gleiberman’s initial review — use a search engine). For those of you hard of reading, Gleiberman is on the side of “Detroit” and with great articulation praised its artistry. In case you are one of the tone-deaf people that didn’t pick up on that.

    • blah says:

      The article gives credence to the debate but there is no debate. The answer is self-evident and to pose the question legitimizes the debate. Although he is on the “right” side of the debate, I think people are objecting to the idea of debating this at all. It’s like reading an article entitled, “Should politicians lie to the press?”. Sure, it’s topical and important but is it the question worth of a headline? As if it could be answered in the negative? It’s very carefully crafted to inflame passions on purpose to get you to click — and unfortunately those passions are represented in the comments. He also doesn’t do himself any favors by posing one guiding question in the headline and then posing the exact opposite in the body of the piece and answering in the negative. It’s a big part of all the confusion.

  30. Tee says:

    I personally did not care for the movie up to the point that my husband and I actually walked out (just after the scene at the Algiers hotel) so if it somehow got reallyyyyyyyyy good after that, please advise. It’s so funny because on the way home I told my husband how underdeveloped I felt the characters were and I felt no connection. I felt a few of the white characters were better developed up to that point and I told him I thought a white personal was behind the movie because there was an obvious disconnect. I’m sure this person is super talented and I do t want to discredit their wok or attack in merit of race alone, I’m just making a very clear observation…

  31. Peter says:

    Disappointing article from Variety. Poorly written and racist

  32. Dissapointed says:

    Shockingly ignorant article from a well respected trade. Regardless of the political culture these days, it’s ridiculous to think that you must live your story’s experience to qualify as storyteller. Did Cameron grow-up on Pandora as a Navi? Did Coppolla grow up in the mob? Did Spielberg fight in WW2? Why should a protagonist’s race or sex be any greater barrier to entry than any other difference between a storyteller and their subject?

    There’s fake news and then there’s just plain absurd news..

    • CJB says:

      Peter & Dissapointed,
      Did either of you actually read the entire article?
      I’m not always a fan of OG’s writing but read the f***ing article.

  33. tulseluperjr says:

    Uh, yeah

  34. Ilan says:

    Do black artists have the right to tell stories about white characters? Do white artists have the right to tell stories about black characters? To ask the question betrays a grotesque misunderstanding of art and the artistic process and I am extremely disappointed in Variety.

  35. Thetoxicavenger says:

    The headline is inherently racist and it is disturbing that it was allowed to print in a Paper or variety’s quality.

  36. bws1066 says:

    Liberal media continuing with their race-baiting. It’s getting old.

    • Jana J. Monji says:

      The issue has been brought up and Variety has chosen to address it. According to Merriam-Webster race-baiting is “the making of verbal attacks against members of a racial group.” That is not what this opinion piece is.

  37. Billie says:

    Detroit is a film for white Americans. For black people this is still our daily life. Beyond all of that, it is an uneven film. In all the ruckus, no one even mentions any of the performances as stand out, which does not make a great film. As usual, the double standard will kick in and the film will rack up awards because of its intention, what it set out to do, but nothing will change in America. Police violence will continue (on video) and so will the Hollywood double standard.

  38. Jack says:

    Kathryn Bigelow ia a lot of things, but not what I would call a “humane” filmmaker…LOL.

    “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the most sickening and inhumane films I have ever seen,
    because it makes heroes out of torturers and claims that their brutal methods bring results.

    I’m pretty sure, that Bigelow and Boal didn’t plan to make such a film, but they needed to
    cooperate with CIA and US Army – and these people read your script very carefully before they support
    your project. If Bigelow & Boal would have made them look bad, there would have been no movie,
    because they can make or break any big film project by refusing their hardware.

    Maybe “Detroit” is Bigelow’s & Boal’s mea culpa for the misguided “Zero Dark Thirty” ?
    Maybe they try to show their critics, that they are no right-wing nuts, but question police brutality?

    It’s certainly a film for our times & it’s always good to be reminded of forgotten history.

  39. Ronnie says:

    Spike Lee tried to make this argument years ago with Steven Spielberg over the Color Purple and received a huge backlash from blacks and whites because he said Spielberg was ” out of his element”. Of course now he’s singing a different tune when he gets to make movies like Inside Man. The fact is any artist can tackle any subject if they take the time to research the subject to tell a viable and relatable story. Race or gender seems to only becomes an issue if the storytelling and final product is bad.

    • Jack says:


      I think you are confusing “The Color Purple” by Steven Spielberg with “Ali” by Michael Mann ?

      I don’t remember anything but praise by the back community for Spielberg’s “Amistad” or “The Color Purple”…but Spike Lee didn’t want Michael Mann to direct “Ali” and was very outspoken about it.

      Maybe it would have been a better movie with Lee directing?

  40. This article is such horseshit. Many of the people below adequately put you in your place, but let’s continue to do so regardless, shall we?

    By suggesting that black people can only make black films, white people make films about white people, etc. etc., you’re basically suggesting or at least hypothesizing that the populace is suggesting that filmmaking should be segregational. Black people should only make stories about other black people, and there in turn black gay people can only make films about black gay people. And then white gays can only make films about white gay characters, because white people can only construct films about white issues. This is far more racist and regressive than what is at hand here? There is no issue here at all.

    Kathryn Bigelow and Ryan Coogler both made exceptional films with moving stories about black people who were victimized by white police brutality. It’s progressive that both a Bigelow and a Coogler are capable of making films about similar issues. I don’t think most people, black or white, even gave the talent behind the camera much thought or worry. And do you know why, primarily?

    It’s not as if it’s a whitewashed film wherein we see the film through the eyes of the white savior. Those films occasionally occur but they’re mercifully rare. In the same way that I wouldn’t care whether Gus Van Sant or Spike Lee directed an interracial gay drama, I don’t care that a white woman made a film about racial violence. Because she’s not glorifying it nor did Mark Boal try to excuse it. They excelled at it and should get Oscar attention for it, especially Bigelow.

    • Langston says:

      Though I agree with most of your points, your comment (as well as many others) negates the nuances of what this piece is really saying…

      Yes, in a perfect world, anyone should be able to tell any story they want. But the major majority of the time, that’s only afforded to whites. Very often in Hollywood, Black Filmmakers are only deemed credible (and green lit thereafter) when telling “black stories.” Case in point the marvel universe. Coog is directing Black Panther, not Captain America.

      what’s good for the goose is good for the gander

      post script: whitewashed/white savior films are definitely NOT “mercifully rare”, at least one every year actual… hashtag Ghost in the Shell

    • Flosse says:

      Since Lee is an overrated and mostly unsuccessful director whose movies rarely entertain, I would doubt it. Besides, Lee is not the nicest person to work for. In his early movies, only Denzel Washington earned more than the industry’s minimum wage.

  41. Laurie says:

    She’s one of the best directors, male or female, black or white. Silly conversation.

  42. Soon to be Famous says:

    Should white film critics like Owen be banned from reviewing black themed films? By the tone of this article, Owen seems to think so.

    For the sake of being politically correct, Owen, don’t you ever review another film about black people again.

    How would you like that, Owen? Does that suit you?

    Don’t ever presume that you can order a director to direct a certain kind of film. What arrogance.

  43. n2darkness says:

    As a filmmaker and a Black Man, I do not want my race to limit the stories I can tell. I have made movies with diverse cast and stories that are not necessarily about the black life . Artists can explore life and since we are all humans and have the same emotions, our race does not limit our ability to tell a story. One of the most meaningful stories about black life “Porgy and Bess” was written by whites. Anyone who wishes to limit artist by color or sex is someone who believes we are not human.

    • This 100%. You said about half the things I wanted to say about this film. (The other half are above.) If we are all equal (as we are, or should be if one thinks we’re not), then our stories are all equally valuable.

      I find this article far more offensive than Bigelow/Boal making this film. Otto Preminger was someone who didn’t see race/orientation/gender as cumbersome to his storytelling in any way. Not only the aforementioned Porgy & Bess, but Carmen Jones bringing the undervalued Dorothy Dandridge a well-earned Oscar nomination. Then he directed a groundbreaking film involving a gay political scandal that was way ahead of its time, Advise & Consent.

  44. Georgia says:

    It makes sense to have a black director, producer, writer, etc for this story. I personally would have liked this genre. So how is it the black affluent, creative, artistic, moneyed community did not get this story told/made in the first place? How is it they were not initially sought out if the white community thought it was a story to be told! At least some collaboration. But then, maybe all that did happen, and the most suited are those whom actually are currently responsible. I’ll be looking for follow-up on this subject. Maybe a 2nd version will have to be made…..?

  45. Job says:

    Should gay directors be telling straight stories?

    • Jana J. Monji says:

      Gay directors can pass for straight and whereas not all black people can pass for white. Even so, wouldn’t it depend upon the story?

  46. keiran says:

    the real question is, should black actors chosen to act in this movie?? same answer to both questions

  47. Skeptic says:

    Bigelow got the financing. Let whoever gets the money to make the movie make their movie.

  48. Julian Penrod says:

    So often attempts to promote a lie rely on more deceit.
    Among other things, it can be testimony to the danger behind the motivations being employed here when the article begins by questioning if whites have even a moral right to comment on blacks’ lives. That goes beyond edict and decree to, essentially, declaring that the decision comes from the mouth of God! This is carried further in the sentiment that “something doesn’t have to be against the law to be taboo”. Why, then, was it considered wrong to give distaste for interracial marriages credence when it was a taboo but not quite illegal? Hypocrisy is a common indicator of the presence of deceit.
    In the same way that Gleiberman condemns “police brutality” against blacks, but suggests giddy joy at the scene of Tibbs hitting Endicott in “In the Heat of the Night”. Shills will say that Endicott hit Tibbs first, but it is against the law for a police officer to strike a civilian in anger, retribution, resentment!

  49. Dex says:

    Should Scorsese not have directed “The Departed” or Ed Zwick “Glory”? The gnashing of teeth over “Detroit”—much of which can be interpreted as a furtive attempt to undermine the film and its director—has reached fevered proportions. Nevertheless, the horrific events that occurred during the ’67 riots deserve to be told and if Bigelow is the one to do it, all the better.

    • Tee says:

      This movie was not good. The article speculates as to why and may make generalizations in doing so which may be dismissive of other works but the author was on point regarding this particular project

  50. You do realize that articles exist like yours is how these topics blow up into mass media debates, right?

    • Jana J. Monji says:

      The POV character in “Glory” was white although the story was about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. “The Departed” was about the Irish mob which at this point in time would be white and although Scorsese is Sicilian-American, he would at this point be considered white as well.

      • Dex says:

        Scorsese is not Irish, yet that group didn’t snivel. As for “Glory,” the story was there to be told by any director who chose to helm it. Before Zwick made the film, most Americans were unaware of African-Americans’ heroic contributions during the Civil War. So, it doesn’t matter whether Zwick was white, purple or green. He told an important story and powerfully so.

        BTW, “Red Tails” and “Rosewood” were directed by—and told from the POV of—African-Americans. Yet, both historically based films fared poorly in the black community. Meanwhile, films such as “Girls Trip” “Think Like a Man” and Tyler Perry comedies are box-office hits. That should be more of a concern to you than whether white directors have the right to tell black stories.

      • Jana J. Monji says:

        “Glory” is told from a white man’s viewpoint. The director was also white. The director was a white man telling the story of a white man. Some people did question why the story was told from a white person’s perspective, but that is a different issue.

        In the movie, it is not true that at the beginning the POV character (Captain Robert Shaw as played by Matthew Broderick) “saw blacks as servants.” One of the conflicts if that he must treat one of his friends, a black person (Thomas Searles as played by Andre Braugher), as his subordinate and not a friend.

      • LensView says:

        I’m not quite sure what your white/black point about “Glory” is here. You are correct to note that the POV is of a white man, but the story is very deliberately that white man’s journey through the racism of that time. At the beginning of the story, his family saw blacks as servants. By the end, that white man saw them as brothers. The movie isn’t about the 54th Volunteer Infantry OR about Col. Shaw’s white privileged family. It is about the conflict between them and how it was met and resolved for this man.

More Film News from Variety