Ms. Bigelow’s nonfictional judgment has earned her scorn in the past — most notably criticism that she gave false, misleading credit to the role that torture played in capturing Osama bin Laden.
Now with “Detroit,” this Oscar-winning filmmaker could be facing her most ambitious, and contentious, project to date. She is a white woman from Northern California telling a story of the black experience in civil rights era Detroit, which Ms. Bigelow said was not lost on her. It certainly was not lost on her cybercritics, who from the start were quick to wield billy clubs full of skepticism over whether she had erased the role of black women during the unrest in Detroit or had the cultural pedigree to convey a story of black oppression.
The movie focuses on a little-known horror amid the five-day riot (locals argue that “rebellion” is a more accurate term) that left 43 dead, nearly 1,200 injured and the city scarred. On the third night of the unrest, the police stormed the Algiers Motel, where they suspected a sniper had been firing at them. Officers terrorized several black teenage boys and two white women who had been staying there, a macabre episode that ended with the deaths of three of the boys and the acquittal of the officers. How’s that for reality?
Ms. Bigelow received the story from the screenwriter Mark Boal at a time when its power, importance and necessity could not be ignored: A grand jury had just declined to indict a white police officer in the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
“It was two things simultaneously,” Ms. Bigelow, 65, said of her initial reaction. “One is kind of a, ‘I’m white, am I the right person to do it?’ And the other is an extremely emotional reaction to the constant recurring of these events.”
She realized, she added, “that I have this opportunity to expose this story in the hope that maybe it either generates a conversation, begins to generate a conversation and/or encourages more stories like this to come forward. To do nothing was not an answer.”
If the time is right for this movie, opening wide on Friday, Aug. 4, after a limited release, it is also daring. Detroiters, coming out of the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy, are touchy over how their city’s narratives are told, whether it be the jaded tales of blight or the glowing renaissance stories that somehow overlook those in the…