It's not news that Detroit is facing enormous challenges: Mayor Dave Bing recently signed a budget that calls for 2,500 layoffs of city workers. Dozens of public schools have closed over the past few years, broken streetlights won't be repaired and some working ones will be shut off to save money. Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick pleaded guilty to felony charges in a perjury case and is in jail.
A new documentary attempts to explain the causes behind the problems.
Deforce is a film made by Michiganders Daniel Falconer and Andrew Rodney, who say they want to do more than what some call "ruin porn," focusing on the dramatic images of Detroit's collapse.
"Our interest is in how and why, not just what's the worst visual we can find and let's masquerade it around," Falconer, who grew up in a suburb north of the city, told Here & Now's Robin Young.
Deforce looks back at many of the policies and practices that went into making Detroit what it is today: Housing policies that allowed whites to get loans and leave the city, police brutality, longtime corruption in city politics, tough drug policies and varied race relations.
African Americans were part of the Great Migration that came to Detroit after the Civil War and the city's race relations have both troubling and bright spots. There was a race riot in the 1800s, and again in 1943, but at many times relations were positive.
"It was a bastion for African Americans from the early 1800s, into the 60s, 70s, 80s-- it has been one of the strongest areas for black businesses," filmmaker Andrew Rodney said. "But sometimes it appeared better than it was. It's interesting that right before the riots they were pointing to Detroit as a model city for race relations. A lot of that was just marketing."
Falconer says that though they try not to focus on the urban blight, it's hard to ignore.
"It's haunting just to inhabit the space. And I don't say that to speak ill of the city," he said. "As a Michigander, as an American, I'm very bothered that we allow a place where other Americans live to get to this condition. Not only allow, but in some cases through policy kind of forced it on the city."
- Daniel Falconer
- Andrew Rodney
This segment aired on June 11, 2012.