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    Film Review: Deforce


    Available From Detroit Documentary Productions

    There are few cities that
    have experienced American history as dramatically as Detroit. During most of the 20th
    century, Detroit
    had a reputation as a model city, and during World War II, as an arsenal of
    democracy. Through the 1950s, the city’s largely integrated industrial
    workforce supported a prosperous middle class. At its peak population level in
    1950, the city’s median household income was a third higher than the nation’s. With
    these facts, Deforce begins a
    heartbreaking history of decline and violence that not only helps explain Detroit’s current crisis,
    but also deeply challenges our understanding of poverty, urban politics, and
    especially race.

    Deforce is a legal term
    meaning unlawfully holding the property of others–in a larger sense,
    displacement, alienation, loss of meaningful community. This idea of deforce,
    the film argues, is central to Detroit’s
    history, and the larger urban American experience. This is particularly true in
    poor black neighborhoods, where police violence, a lack of basic municipal
    services, and pervasive blight have damaged any connection to a larger
    community. Today the effects are vividly felt in a city with a higher murder
    rate than wartime Iraq or Northern Ireland.
    And while it’s tempting to view Detroit as
    remote or anomalous, Deforce situates
    it well within the history of suburbanization and the 21st century
    politics of urban America.

    At the same time, for all
    its devastating perception, Deforce
    does not succumb to defeatism. Residents interviewed for the film talk as much
    about the city’s resilience as about blighted structures or food deserts. And
    it’s in this feeling of resilience that the film places much of its forward
    momentum, rather than in particular goals or proposals. There is an
    unmistakable sense that, even if displaced or alienated, Detroiters feel strongly about where
    they come from.  

    reluctance to offer specific solutions is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t
    overshadow the larger narrative. In exploring the deeper roots of Detroit’s ongoing crises,
    the film asks difficult questions of its audience that seek to break down a “conspiracy
    of silence about urban issues.” The implication is that urban communities
    across the United States
    suffer from some of the same illnesses, and it’s only by addressing these in a
    direct and meaningful way that we can begin to move forward.

    Published on May 11, 2012


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