‘Detroit’ world premiere brings glamour to Fox Theatre
'Detroit movie actors Laz Alonso (Congressman Conyers), Nathan Davis Jr. (Aubrey Pollard), Miguel Pimentel (Malcolm), and Chris Chalk (Officer Frank) talk about the film and the city of Detroit. Jo Kroeker, The Detroit News
Woodward Avenue is getting a taste of Hollywood star power Tuesday night during the red carpet premiere of “Detroit."
Director Kathryn Bigelow and many of the film’s stars — including John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Saginaw’s own Algee Smith — were in town this week for a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s world premiere at the Fox Theatre.
The historic Detroit venue has a small role in the film, which was largely shot in the Boston area.
Motown great Martha Reeves, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, former Detroit Police Chief Isaiah McKinnon and Georgetown University sociology professor, author and Detroit native Michael Eric Dyson were among celebrities spotted at the world premiere.
Real people who were depicted in “Detroit” — Julie Delaney, security guard Melvin Dismukes and Larry Reed, an original member of The Dramatics — also were in attendance at the event.
John Conyers III saw the movie with his mother, former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, and both were amazed by the striking resemblance actor Laz Alonso has to his father, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.
“It was incredible to see the story come to life and also to see Laz play my father,” said Conyers III. “He looks just like him.”
Alonso said he got the “thumbs up” from Monica and John III, and he’ll be meeting the congressman Thursday when they screen “Detroit” for him on Capitol Hill.
“It’ll be his first time seeing the movie ... still a little nervous, but hopefully I meet his expectations as well and hopefully the film does,” Alonso said. “I did everything in my power to watch every single piece of documented interviews, public speaking engagements that I could. I just wanted to get his voice, his ticks, any type of mannerisms that I could capture, and then play them in an elevated situation.”
The film, directed by Academy Award-winner Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, covers the July 1967 uprising and focuses specifically on a racially charged incident in the now-leveled Algiers Motel where three young African-American men were shot and killed, and several others beaten.
Three white Detroit Police officers and one African-American security guard were charged with their murders and found not guilty.
“I think people will be riveted by it,” Dyson said Tuesday evening. “The reality is across this nation in Minnesota, in New York, in other places, police brutality has been unfortunately and tragically evergreen and a staple, and unarmed black people have died.”
Meanwhile, many actors spoke of the significance of the Fox Theatre.
“It feels like the perfect place to premiere the film,” said actress Hannah Murray, who played Julie in the film. “Coming full circle to be able to share it with the city ... it’s amazing and it feels like this is exactly the right place.”
Actor Chris Chalk, who played officer Frank in the raid on the blind pig, said this is “maybe the best reception for a movie I’ve ever done.”
“I love the city. I think it’s great,” said Chalk, who said he’s filming in Capetown, South Africa, but he and his wife flew to Detroit for the premiere. “I didn’t want to miss this.”
Tyler James Williams, who is best known for his roles in “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Walking Dead,” played Leon in the film. He said he felt a responsibility to depict the pride Detroiters feel.
“I know how I feel about my city, I’m from New York. So I can only imagine if somebody did a movie called ‘New York,’ I’d be watching it with a certain amount of scrutiny,” Williams said. “So with that, I brought the same pride I bring to my city to this.”
The young cast was playful with the media and each other on the red carpet, a vast departure from the intensity they brought their roles in the film.
Ben O’Toole, an Australian actor who played police officer Flynn, spent time exploring the city.
“I did a bit of walking around today and went to the RiverWalk and went all the way down to the Dequindre Cut — that is beautiful,” O’Toole exclaimed. “The art in this city is just gorgeous, and I’ve seen some of those Michigan PedalerCQ bicycles, the bars on wheels, I did one of those last time we shot here. ... They’re so much fun — it’s exercise and drinking.”
Patty Turner and Detroit radio personality Foody from WMXD-FM (Mix 92.3) lived through that summer of ’67 and wanted to see if the rebellion was portrayed accurately.
Turner was 19 when she said she was shot at by the police and sent to jail for breaking curfew.
“It was an ordeal, it was a nightmare. It’s something you can’t explain,” Turner said, adding that reliving those moments is disheartening.
It also is disheartening for Foody, because he said it makes him face the fact that the city never rebuilt after the riots.
“Our market was on the east side, we lost it during the riots; it was vandalized,” he said. “We were never able to rebuild it. We pass it now, and it’s a field.”
Despite the movie forcing Detroiters to relive the events of ’67, both remain positive.
“You cannot go back and live the past. You have to move forward,” Foody said. “We’re in the present, we’re about to witness this movie, what do we do in the future?”