By Khalil Waldron
It is very rare that a film can move you on such an emotional level that you will leave the theater a person different from how you entered. Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit is one of those films. Bigelow who is known for her films Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty is tackling a different type of war. The historical crime drama depicts the horrific events that took place at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 Detroit riots, which took place during the summer of that year and lasted approximately five days.
Bigelow’s directional style captures the emotion of the events and takes us on a ride, shedding light on our nation’s infamous past. The all-star cast featuring John Boyega, Algee Smith, and Will Poulter will have audiences on the edge of their seats and leave talking. We were fortunate enough to catch up with one of the talented cast members, Joseph David-Jones, to talk about his experience on set and the weight carried by a film like Detroit, which hit movie theaters nationwide today.
UPTOWN: So tell us a bit about your character.
Joseph David-Jones: I play Morris, who is in a group called the Dramatics. The Dramatics, it’s kind of the hunk of the story that’s showing us that group of musicians who get caught up during all of the chaos of the rebellion Detroit 1967. And, you see a lot of different members of the group become affected by what happens in a lot of different ways. So without giving anything away, some people in the group, they are affected by it heavily, and it changes the outcome of the lives and other people in the group. They’re affected by it but it doesn’t hinder them. So it’s just like how these rebellions and how big events — these very, very horrific things — can tear people apart and affect the outcome of their lives. I think you really feel that even more in the rest of the Dramatics in this story.
JDJ: Me, as well as most of the other people in the film, we knew about the riots, we knew about what happened in Detroit in 1967, but this film really focuses on a specific event — the event at the Algiers Motel — and none of us knew about it. And it was one of the most horrific things to come out of 1967 Detroit and none of us knew, and I feel like there were a lot of times things like this got swept under the rug or hidden through the course of history. I’m just glad that now I do have this role, and we’re able to shed a light and bring a light to some of these terrible, horrific stories that kind of got pushed aside or forgotten.
U: So the events in the film are set in a time in our country’s history where there was strong racial tension. How do you think today’s audiences, in 2017, are going to relate to that?
JDJ: I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I feel like there are still a lot of parallels with what’s going on today with what was going on back then, but at the same time you see how far we’ve come … The intent for this isn’t to add to the divisiveness of this country right now. I mean the country is very divisive and divided, and the thing we hope happens is that it kind of gives people empathy and an understanding for what it is and what it’s been like to be a Black person in this country. And our hope is, even if people don’t agree on things, that it starts a conversation about it. I’m hoping that we can try and talk about kind of some of the solutions to the problems in this film that are still happening today.
JDJ: I would say this is one of the most challenging roles that I have ever played. And most of this stuff that I have done, like playing a superhero, it’s fun, man. There’s no weight to it, there’s no, “Oh man, if I don’t then I would really capture the shoot, this thing, the people will not respond to it.” It’s fun. I mean you’re running around in tights, it’s an illusion; you’re shooting and fucking stuff up. It’s not weird. There’s no added weight or feeling of like, “Man, this happened to somebody. I need to portray it right.” When you are going through a sad moment or something or when you are going through a moment of fear or terror or anything like that, it’s written; it’s just words on a page. But for this, it’s not words on a page. People actually went through this, and going and having that in the back of my head, really grounded everything that I was doing. I don’t know, it’s just more, more responsibility to be truthful to the characters, to be truthful to the story.
And working with the caliber of people that are on the film. I work with some great people. This director, I don’t know, it’s Kathryn Bigelow, you know? It’s an Oscar Award-winning director. On top of the weights of telling a true story and being truthful to people who actually lived these events, is that added weight of like, don’t mess up in front of the Oscar Award-winning director.
JDJ: It is crazy. Kathryn is unlike any director that I’ve worked with before or seen before. She has just complete control over the set, for her vision. I don’t think any of the actors got a full copy of the script. So, a lot of us didn’t know what was going on and she wanted that. She wanted that so that all of our reactions and all of our emotions in the moment were real. We really had to react and no time to prepare or anything. So, we would be there and everyday we’d just get new pages. And it’s like picking a new page and like trying to bring all the realness to it even though you just got it like an hour ago.
U: What was your favorite moment on the set? Because I know there had to be time where everybody was off the cuff — it was guards down — what were some of the fun moments on set for you?
JDJ: I will say the most fun moment on set, I don’t know if it will make it in the film, but when we went to Detroit, we shot like three or four scenes at Motown, and one of my favorite musicians right now is Leon Bridges who sings that kind of like nostalgic music. So we’re on set of the Kathryn Bigelow movie, shooting in Motown, shooting in studio A, and people were telling us about the history of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder and all this stuff, and Leon Bridges is there. It was just all of my favorite stuff compounded into one. It was just a fun day and nobody was dying or getting shot. It was a good day. Nobody had to cry. It was one of the lighthearted days.
U: OK, after you guys finish the press run for the film and things like that, what’s going to be next for you?
JDJ: I’m waiting for another film to come out, and then I’m up for a handful of different projects, and we’ll see what happens with that. But, I have this Netflix show that should be coming out at either the end of this year or the beginning of next year as well. I’m looking forward to a couple things, just writing in my downtime. I’m working on my screenplay right now. Just trying to stay as busy as I can.