Laz Alonso Talks 'DETROIT,' New Film Depicting Unsolved 1967 Police Brutality Incident 

The actor believes this film mirrors the same struggles happening today. 

For the generation of Americans who vividly remember the Civil Rights Movement, headlines of today are nothing new.

Police brutality, an unjust judicial system, prison and poverty have long been used to oppress Black people, and a new movie hopes to remind viewers that the battle for equality has been a long journey.

Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s film DETROIT, tells the gripping story of a group of young African-American men and two young White women who seek refuge in the Algiers Motel while the city was in flames. A report of a sniper in the area led police to the hotel that resulted in a fatal incident. 

Starring in the film are Laz Alonso, John Boyega, Anthony Mackie, Samira Wiley and Miguel Pimentel. We spoke to Alonso about his role as Congressman John Conyers, who first received reports of the assault four days later.

What prompted you to be involved in this film versus other atrocities of the ’60s?
The theme of universal injustice, so central to this movie, was what made me want to be a part of it. DETROIT was a reminder that our people have been fighting for justice against some of the same issues for quite some time, and that we can’t forget our history, it connects us to those that came before us.

Were there any similarities between the Detroit story and things going on in current headlines?
Despite being a movie based on a tragic moment in the history of our community I think DETROIT shows that some of the same things our parents and grandfathers fought against 50 years ago have not changed, what has changed is the ability to film it and/or stream things live as they happen. This has been what I believe has changed the narrative, and given most people a look at what really happened vs.only hearing one side of the story. In many ways, this was the only way to show how bad the problem is.

When it comes to civil unrest and protest sparked by systematic racism, can we ever push too hard? Is there a line not to be crossed?
I believe that the protests over the last three years have shined a necessary light on the problem. They have also helped bring the problem to a national stage and not be isolated incidents that can be brushed off as criminal behavior. There are a lot of lines these protests today should never cross. They can be angry but should remain peaceful and stay away from violence and destruction anywhere, especially in our own communities.

DETROIT opens in theaters August 4.

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[BLANK_AUDIO] Who do you as black men speak to about feeling ostracized, these emotions, or do you not feel like these are conversation you can have with your friends? The people get most worried for me in these moments are my mother and my sisters, those were always- [INAUDIBLE] Love you- The first- [INAUDIBLE] And care. Calls that I get. I always try to talk to other black men, I went to Moore house for undergrads so I know a lot of black men, many of my friends are black men and for me what that does is it just helps me to remind myself that I'm not going crazy. Mm-hm. Right, so when something like what happens today happens and This feeling of numbness sort of washed over me. That's something that, I think, resonates with a lot of people that I know. We've been through this time and time again. And you have those feelings of anger and frustration and some empowerment Here and there and you need to be able to connect on those terms and I think finally, I try to put it into the work. So being a journalist, these are the conversations that I'm trying to start, the conversations that I'm trying to have What other people have Yeah I try to stay away from trolls like I don't read the comments. There's always trolls in every situation no matter what unfortunately. I don't want this to be my segue but we do want to go to social media to hear what the audience is saying. Drake posted to his Instagram, last night when I saw the video of Alton Sterling being killed it left me feeling disheartened Heartened, emotional, and truly scared. No one begins their life as a hashtag, yet the trend of being reduced to one continues. This is real and I'm concerned. And Leah Audrae tweeted, where is @NRA outrage for a law abiding citizen, legally carrying a weapon with a permit Murdered in broad daylight, hashtag Philandro Castile and I also have one more from Toure, we need a radical change in how police see black people. We need to be seen as full humans. Hashtag Alton Sterling, Hashtag Philandro Castile Kayla, what's our Essence Live audience saying? Lots of comments coming in in regards to the image of the black man in the media. Dwayne A Dewey says, this is a cultural thing, white officers and the general public are trained and conditioned to fear black males. Juna Shepherd says, no matter the life these young men lived, they didn't deserve to die. Bethany Ann Dixon says, what happened to the idea of using minimum force? Cops today shoot to kill instead of shooting to inquire. Mm-hm. Brenda Eldridge says, we have to unite as one to stop this. Rosa Owen says it's time to rise up. Those are some very, very good comments. Thank you so very much Essence Live audience for submitting those. Gentlemen, final thoughts? I think we're at the point of that rising up that she spoke about and I think Jessie Williams obviously, his much lauded speech. Talk about that right we need to change police's place in our society or at least think to do that and much like this sort of riots in LA. We're at this point now where things are so tense. That something is going to burst. And to expect that, and maybe there's healing on the other end of that. But it's gotta happen. But it's gotta happen. It's gonna happen, definitely. I would agree, I think that this has been going on for centuries now, that it's become a public conversation for the past few years. And we know what the problems are, it's time to get to fixing them. And I think that hopefully African Americans can become empowered to push for more change, and for that change to come from not a place of anger and hurt, but for love and black people, black life Hopefully, maybe then we'll see something better. Thank you, Donovan. Gene, you have the final word. Yeah. I think that we need to just kind of break down the rules of what we think revolution and rebellion looks like. [INAUDIBLE] in 1831, picks and axes. Today, we have. Social media, which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing, but I think that there is other pockets of things that we can be doing. And I think that if we focus on ourselves, which sounds very cliche cuz everybody says that, but really focus on ourselves, controlling our dollars, controlling our space and being able to look at ourselves and not worry about An entity that actually was created to subdue us, right? The police will never see us human. I'm sorry to give you guys the bad news, right? But I think that if we embrace the fact that we're on our own, I think that puts us in a position to then deal with Other communities in a humane way.