(Wendell Watkins giving students from the Boggs School a tour of his postal route)
Why Am I Making a Film About Detroit?
I feel lucky to have grown up in Detroit in from the mid 1960s through the mid 1970s. Coming of age there gave me a specific and very special view on race and racism, unions, and social justice movements. So much of who I am as a person, a teacher, and a filmmaker has to do with my childhood experience in the Motor City. However, I haven’t lived in Detroit for many years and I missed the dramatic disinvestment and decline that hit the city in the 1980s and continues to today. So, when I returned to Detroit in 2009, I was frankly stunned by the devastation I witnessed. I had so many questions about what happened to the jobs, the people, and the buildings.
Being a filmmaker and knowing my friend Wendell had been delivering mail in the same Detroit neighborhood for many years, I was drawn to looking for answers by following Wendell around his route with my camera. That’s how Detroit 48202: Conversations Along A Postal Route got started.
Why Is DETROIT 48202: CONVERSATIONS ALONG A POSTAL ROUTE an important film to be made?
When we started this film project 4 years ago, many of the mainstream media stories about Detroit seemed to be driven by a fascination with devastation and abandoned buildings. That seemed counterproductive, because, as Wendell’s nephew Jack told us, “Detroit is more than abandoned buildings. People live here!”
Now, the stories about Detroit in the mainstream media seem to emphasize a city that has climbed out of bankruptcy and is on the way up through the efforts of government, corporate developers, and the influx young creatives. But as historian and former Detroiter, Thomas Sugrue says, “When we think of revitalization, we have to turn our eyes away from Downtown and hip-gentrifying neighborhoods. There is a misunderstanding of what it takes for a city to be healthy.”
We think Detroit 48202: Conversations Along A Postal Route brings more historical context and grassroots perspective into view. The resilient Detroiters in Detroit 48202 trace the legacy of people who have been the backbone of Detroit’s industry and culture for decades, who have worked hard for the vision of a city that might benefit all of its residents. It is an open-ended narrative that leads us to a Detroit that is at a crossroad. Will the resurgence of the city center on a highly visible, high tech and increasingly white downtown? Or, will it center on the vast stretches of neighborhoods that continue to deal with water shutoffs, tax foreclosures, poor transportation, and underfunded schools?
Detroit 48202: Conversations Along a Postal Route can make an important contribution to the ongoing discussion about re-imagining Detroit. It is a story relevant to cities across our country.