Film Review: Deforce
There are few cities that
have experienced American history as dramatically as Detroit. During most of the 20th
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
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.
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