There is an ongoing question in Hollywood as to whether or not white filmmakers have a right to tell black stories. The case has been made quite strongly by some black film critics who just don’t care to watch a film about the black perspective as told by white filmmakers. White viewers of the film seem to be critical of that take, as though a movie should just be a movie. But a movie is never just a movie, especially when it’s based on real life events. It’s important to listen to voices in the black community when it comes to their history. But if we say that only black filmmakers can tell black stories and only white filmmakers should tell white stories, I can tell you with zero ambiguity that all that means is that less stories about black community will be told at all. That means less work for black writers and the less the white community learns the history that is their shared history. There is no room for nuance on Twitter so don’t even bother trying to discuss it there. Mark Boal felt compelled to write about this little known event in history. He works best with Kathryn Bigelow, so it’s no surprise they would team up to tell it. I don’t feel like it’s my place, or any white person’s place, to tell black critics or audiences how they should feel. All I can really do is talk about the film as a film, and the history as American history. Detroit is as powerful as it gets on that front and Boal chose this story because it needed to be told, as he explains in Vanity Fair:
I wrote this story because I went and talked to the people who were involved, and they told me what happened to them, and that’s what made me want to write it. I felt moved by their experiences, and I thought other people might find it moving too. I suppose if I have some tiny bit of influence in Hollywood, this is how I chose to deploy it. Probably another writer would have done it differently, but that’s sort of true of everything. There is a responsibility, I think, to tell stories like this as well as I can, because it deals with such profound underlying issues. I take the responsibility seriously, and I try to be diligent and talk to people who were there or who were experts on the 60s or were experts in policing or whatever, and try to do my work. That’s really all I can do. I guess I would hope that people judge the movie based on its quality or lack thereof.
This conversation has been going on for decades, from The Color Purple on up – we are at the point now where there are a lot of black filmmakers making movies – like Get Out, like Mudbound. But no one really wanted to tell the story of the Algiers Motel in Detroit in 1967. Nonetheless, it remains a story that needed to be told and if the sum total of its reach is only white audiences, most of whom will get a better understanding of the two systems of justice in America? Well, that’s worthwhile too.
Read the rest of the Boal interview here.