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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Street Fighting Men is a 2017 documentary that chronicles three years in the lives of three different African American men in Detroit. The three men are at different stages of their lives, and what connects them is a desire to improve their lives and the lives of those around them while faced with myriad institutional failures. While the violent crime in these communities isn't directly shown, the aftermath is, including one of the men shown beaten up, his face swollen. An elderly woman points out the bullet hole in her pillow after her house had been riddled with gunfire the night before; she narrowly escaped getting shot by being fortunate enough to have slept on the other side of the bed that night. A home is severely damaged when it's believed that a bomb was thrown into a second story window; a dog who was in the basement at the time is later shown to be suffering from respiratory issues. Some profanity, including the "N" word and "f--k." Cigarette smoking. A bag of marijuana briefly shown. While the problems that have plagued Detroit for decades aren't overtly presented, the problems are very much on display, but so is resiliency in the face of these problems, and teens and parents should have plenty to discuss about inequality in America, the chronic unemployment and institutional failures that lead to crime in the inner cities, and how these communities are finding ways to step up and improve the lives of those around them.
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What's the story?
STREET FIGHTING MEN is a documentary that follows three years in the lives of three Detroit men. James "Jack Rabbit" Jackson is a retired police officer who now engages in community policing, working to stop crime as it happens while also engaging with the residents of his community. Luke Williams is investing all of his energy into rehabbing a house while struggling to make a living. Deris Solomon is trying to further his education and start a career so he can be a good role model for his baby daughter. These three are shown striving to improve their lives and the lives of those around them against a backdrop of chronic unemployment, crime, and institutional failure. At the same time, Street Fighting Men shows the power of resiliency in individuals and in struggling communities.
Is it any good?
What's immediately striking about this documentary is the way in which the information is presented. There isn't much in the way of backstory to the setting, as it's almost a foregone conclusion now that Detroit has been in a desperate struggle for survival for several decades now. And yet, resiliency and hard work are qualities that have also come to define Detroit, and these aspects to Detroit's civic character are also on full display. That's certainly not to say that this is a Chamber of Commerce production by any stretch, because this resiliency and belief that hard work will improve one's lot in life are constantly being tested to the breaking point in this unsparing portrait of communities long past the point of crisis.
At a time when so many are grappling with how we got to this point in America where systemic racism is as ugly and entrenched as it has ever been, Street Fighting Men offers no easy answers. As the "American Dream" seems to be failing the people of these communities as much as the institutions around them, the viewer is left to ponder a question posed by a woman who narrowly avoids getting killed while gunfire resulted in several holes in her house and a bullet hole in her pillow inches from where she slept: "How do we storm the Bastille?" The question seems prophetic now that cities all over America are rising up in the wake of the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among so many other people of color, and one of the biggest takeaways in this excellent documentary is how basic day-to-day survival, let alone revolution, is often a hard-fought victory in and of itself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about documentaries. How does Street Fighting Men compare to other documentaries you've seen? What new information did you learn?
In what ways does the movie show resilience in the face of tremendous challenges?
Without overtly saying so, how does the documentary highlight the institutional failures, crime, and inequality the residents of these communities in Detroit must contend with?
- In theaters: June 17, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 26, 2020
- Cast: James Jackson, Deris Solomon, Luke Williams
- Director: Andrew James
- Studio: First Run Features
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Great Boy Role Models
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: June 24, 2020
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