Is Detroit a cautionary tale of the future of the United States?

The trailer warns, “What happened in Detroit, is now spreading throughout.”

The press materials alarmingly asks:

The woes of Detroit are emblematic of the collapse of the U.S. manufacturing base. Is the Midwestern icon actually a canary in the American coal mine?

Detropia is a new documentary by the directors of Jesus Camp. After initial openings in New York City and Detroit this weekend, it will be rolled out into wider release across the country in the coming weeks.

I am a born and raised Michigander, and lived in Detroit (yes, city proper, Cass Corridor) from 1987 to 1993. I couldn’t get to this film fast enough. I attended the New York City screening at the IFC center last weekend, which also hosted directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady for a question and answer session afterward.

If you’re just joining us, let me inform you the city of Detroit sits on the verge of financial bankruptcy, having lost 25 percent of its population and 50 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years. The film paints a picture of contemporary Detroit as seen primarily through the eyes of five diverse Detroiters.

  • CRYSTAL STARR: A barista and video blogger, aspiring poet from southwest Detroit.
  • GEORGE MCGREGOR: President of UAW Local 22. He arrived in Detroit in 1967 during the riots as part of the Army unit dispatched to restore calm to the city.
  • TOMMY STEPHENS: Retired schoolteacher has been in Detroit for over 40 years. He is the owner of the Raven Lounge near Detroit Hamtramck assembly plant.
  • DAVID DICHERA: General director, Michigan Opera Theater. He founded the Opera in 1971 with the help of local supporters and Luciano Pavarotti, took shuttered triple X movie palace and restored it to create the Detroit Opera House in April 1996.
  • STEVE AND DOROTA COY: Visual and performance artists in their late 20s, they are a married couple who have lived in Detroit for a few years.

The faces and voices showcased are overwhelmingly African American, which is entirely appropriate when discussing a city that is 82.7 percent African American per the 2010 census.

I’ve always felt the lowest form of critique is to criticize a work for not being what it is not.

It is only fair to critique a piece relevant to the artist’s intention and how effectively they executed their vision.

So that said, this post does not serve as a review, perhaps more as an addendum, since much of what I will discuss involves ground left uncovered by the filmmakers. And perhaps it’s sign of good filmmaking that leaves you wanting more, that sets you afire with all the thoughts and questions that a piece conjures to your mind. By that metric then Detropia is an enormously successful film.

And I should say, as a reviewer, I do recommend it without reservation to this audience at Daily Kos, most of whom I’m sure will find it thought-provoking.  

But I also did find the film was remarkable for what it did not examine, as for what it did. And in that vein, it may be a very effect conversation starter.

So let’s start the conversation after the fold: Is Detroit truly emblematic of the future of the United States?

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Daily Kos

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