The Detroit riots rocked the city in the summer of 1967 and while it has been over fifty years since it happened, many of the emotions and themes are still familiar today. We interviewed the cast including Tyler James Williams, Jacob Latimore, John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Laz Alonso, and Ben O’Toole, in 2017 and talked with them about what it was like to have to have so much hatred in their characters, but still be friends off camera and what we can learn from this historical moment.
Jacob Latimore shares what it was like to have to do a scene with his actor and friend Will Poulter, who plays a racist police officer.
“Every time I speak about it I get kind of emotional. I commend Will for really digging deep into this, because he’s one of the nicest guys I ever met. You know what I mean? So, for him to play such an evil person, he really dug deep for it. Every time he got on set, he tried to be as serious as possible. But, I think when we got to that scene, he couldn’t take it anymore. He broke down. He literally ran out of the building, and then Algee went after him. I wanted to go after him as well, but I wanted to stay in the scene. I wanted to get it over with. I think Algee was out there just embracing him.”
Algee Smith adds.
“When I went out there to hug him, he was crying so hard, I just collapsed, and I started crying with him. Will asked Kathryn [Bigelow], ‘How many more times do we have to shoot this scene?’
Latimore reflects how their friendship actually helped the scenes.
“As soon as they said, ‘Cut,’ we just embraced for like five to ten minutes. It was exhausting. That was probably the hardest for me, just knowing our relationship off-screen. It’s so like, ‘Bro, wussup? Where you going? Where you at?’ But, it also made me more comfortable to do those types of scenes as well.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
Laz Alonso and Tyler James Williams open up on how this story can help us today. Alonso opens up on the importance of talking about things in order to change.
“Because this incident happened fifty years ago, and it’s not a story of today’s time, hopefully it will allow a broader audience to come in and learn something historical. Because it is a factual, historical movie, it’s not there to beat you over the head, to make you feel guilty, or tell you, you’re bad and you’re good. No, this happened in a moment in history that we’re not aware of. I think that the key learning moment here, the teachable moment here for those that watch it today is, ‘Okay, let’s connect it to the similarities that’s going on right now.’ This happened fifty years ago. What can we do? Let’s talk about what we can do to change the narrative.”
Tyler James Williams shares his perspective.
“I think there’s this weird percentage question where there’s always this argument of, ‘The majority of these characters were running away.’ They perceived a danger and tried to get away from it and were killed. So, when talking about police brutality, there’s also this recurring theme of people choosing flight and still dying, and that kind of gets rid of this whole perceived threat argument. [My character] took two shells to the back. You don’t shoot people in the back when they’re running away from you. That is also a part of this conversation. We came to this boiling point and people were really brought down to their primitive instincts, ‘What am I going to do here?’ And the reasons we have the laws we have in place is that when something like this happens, we can quickly differentiate to what we’re supposed to do, and if it’s not happening properly.”
Be an agent of reconciliation. While you may not be able to change a city or country overnight, it is possible to change one person. Start with yourself. Ask God to reveal anything in you that doesn’t represent His love towards others. It could be a thought or action. Pray and ask God to forgive you. If it is something you have done towards someone else, ask their forgiveness. Even if time has passed, it is important to have a conversation to help someone understand why something they might have done hurt your feelings or have a conversation asking for forgiveness.
Befriend someone that is different. Whether it is race, religion or background, it is easy to be friends that have a similar upbringing as us. But God wants us to love everyone just as He loves us. Pray and ask God to show you someone in your life that He wants you to befriend. It might be a co-worker, classmate, teammate or someone you see at church. Instead of making excuses, think of things that you have in common. Then invite the person to do a shared activity or interest that you have. It might even be just grabbing a cup of coffee to get to know one another.
Pray for racial reconciliation. Pray that God would heal the tension in our country. Pray that people would be slow to speak, slow to anger and quick to listen. Ask God to bring people to the table that need to have a conversation with one another. Be open to being a part of the solution and how God might want to model that through you!
To read our entire interview with Tyler James Williams, Jacob Latimore, John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, Laz Alonso, and Ben O’Toole, click here.