In the supposedly post-racial America, racial tensions continue to be just as high – if not higher – than the days of Jim Crow. For Will Poulter, his role as racist Detroit police officer Krauss in the recently released movie Detroit helped to establish some context as to what is still happening today. DX recently caught up with Poulter in the city of Detroit during the film’s world premiere to discuss his character, the parallels between the events of the movie and today, and what he thinks can be done to help heal.
“You know it’s interesting,” Poulter said when asked how he approached the role of Officer Krauss. “I think the most challenging thing for me was looking at a character and not feeling any sort of parallel or identifying with any kind of trait in him in myself. Normally when you’re playing a character you like to try and identify with something in the psychological makeup that you can latch onto [but] beyond being a white male I didn’t really form any sort of connection with him at all. So to try and adopt the psyche of a racist you have to embrace mythology, you have to build a character on lies, and on really kind of ignorant thought structures and that’s tricky. It’s tough to embrace. It’s a responsibility I had and I wanted to unapologetically represent him as a racist because I think it was important to recognize that during this incident several racist police officers were to blame. I didn’t want any kind of question marks to hang over that.”
Poulter also discussed how important the audience knew how racist his character was and the facts that the movie addressed: “I was very fortunate that the filmmakers, and Mark Boal specifically as the writer, did a great deal of research. My character is a composite of several different police officers who were there at the time. That’s the beautiful thing about Detroit that I wouldn’t want anyone to get it twisted is that this is based on fact. The events you see depicted on films are based on the reality of what happened. Three young African-American men lost their lives. A group of African-American men were viciously brutalized in the Algiers Motel during the time of the rebellion and two white women were also viciously brutalized. Those are the bare bone facts of a very destructive moment in American history. [There were] 300 deaths and 7,200 arrests [between all of the rebellions in America] at the time and I think the Detroit deaths were 43 at the time [with] hundreds of deaths going on around the country and thousands of arrests.”
Drawing parallels to the events of 50 years ago to today, Poulter expressed how important it is we don’t continue to repeat history: “I think it’s unfortunately all too relevant. I think we’ve all in recent times been witness to a repetition of those sort of racially motivated police practices. I don’t doubt that there are a great many [of] hard working, honest police officers but of course, this draws attention to the fact that unfortunately not every police officer has the same attitude. We can’t allow for the events that you see depicted in this movie to manifest themselves in society today. We can’t have a repeat of what happened 50 years ago. That’s totally unacceptable.”
Poulter also gave his opinion on how to begin to move race relations forward. “Unfortunately I certainly don’t possess the answer to that but what I will say is the first step is about improving the empathy and understanding [of] other people,” Poulter says sincerely. “I found the experience of being involved in this movie from the start of shooting to now to be very educational. I’ve learned a great deal. I’m embarrassed I didn’t know more about the history of race relations before this but I would encourage everyone to see the film and hopefully, they’ll feel naturally compelled to wanna do some research and naturally feel more empathetic toward people different [than] themselves and outside their own ethnicity groups. That’s important for progression and togetherness.”
For more exclusive interviews like this and for all of your music needs be sure to keep it locked on HipHopDX. Detroit is currently in theaters now.