When he was contracted to create artwork promoting the movie Detroit, local artist Marlo Broughton says he found the experience hit very close to home on a number of fronts.
Broughton, who was born in Detroit 20 years after the 1967 uprising documented in the film, says he is greatly influenced by his hometown's troubled history, as well as its continual struggle to recover from the devastating losses.
"I have family who lived through it [the rebellion], they have some trauma dealing with it," Broughton says. "A lot of my grandfather's friends' businesses never went back up, so you know, it was very close to home, and my heart was into it."
Since its July 28 premiere, Detroit has received mixed reviews from a number of film critics, including a coveted, almost unheard of 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. These conflicting opinions stem from the film's depiction of the horrifying events that took place in Detroit during the rebellion. Gruesome, factual, and inevitably hard to watch, the film is mostly based around a single incident involving the murder of three African-American men in the Algiers Motel that summer.
While only a portion of the movie was actually filmed in Detroit, the film's production company, Annapurna Pictures, contracted the Detroit-based creative agency Playground Detroit to work with four local artists — Broughton, Sydney G. James, Nic Notion, and Jacx — to help promote the film. Broughton completed the project in less than a week, producing a collection of paintings that were used as billboards around the city.
Among the most gripping is Broughton's painting of an African-American man standing with his
hands up, pressed against a wall. The painting was used as a billboard and displayed in downtown Detroit on Grand River Avenue. Broughton explained that due to the sensitive nature of this image, there was speculation that it would be taken down.
"It's very up front [with] what's going on today," says Broughton. "Black men are getting killed with their hands up with nothing."
Broughton says he connected to his pieces through family stories of the past, as well as present-day socio-political issues.
"I would say a lot of my work is subconsciously made," he says. "I kind of put out what's going on around the times. Right now it's very social, we're dealing with a lot of social injustices and just crazy stuff. So, I think a lot of my work is driven by what's going on right now."
However, despite continuing racial tensions in Detroit and other cities across the country, Broughton envisions a positive, hopeful future for the city he calls home, and is bolstered by the recent resurgence of its creative community.
"I think art helps bring understanding, because it's something everybody wants to see, especially if it's vocal, and it's made by a Detroiter," he says. "I think it makes them want to discover more."
In fact, Broughton says growing up and living in Detroit has shaped his views as an artist for the better.
"It's definitely within my demeanor, my drive. I really don't believe in quitting," he says. "I don't think there's really any concept of failure for me. I believe the only thing you're here to do is rebuild every day."