Dunkirk v Detroit


Like a flotilla of small craft carrying soldiers, Dunkirk was met with rapture on its arrival in England a few months ago. Apart from the usually dissenting voices who you always suspect are more interesting in being contrary than being honest, the reviews were gushing.

Then something unfortunate happened. The leader of the anti-immigration right-wing nationalist UKIP party posed in front of a poster of the movie and urged young people to see the film.

Suddenly Dunkirk was part of the culture wars. Never mind that for a war movie it is quite unusual in that it is basically showing soldiers in continual retreat, fighting just to stay alive, it was now in some minds an example of the jingoism that would appeal to the kind of person who voted for Brexit.


Dunkirk wasn’t alone in being attributed a side in the right/left cultural ‘debate’. Detroit was pretty much universally hailed and simultaneously universally shunned by the public.

Just handling the subject of brutality and police prejudice was enough to have it firmly associated with black lives matter and other movements on the left considered by Sean Hannity or the readers of Breitbart as America hating, law breaking thugs.

The reality of course was the film was showing you historical context, that there have existed plenty of examples of urban police brutality before BLM and that the inability for anyone to confront this issue has led to its toxic presence at the heart of political debate for decades.

It’s very sad to me that two very well made and intelligent films have to be slighted by intransigent thinking, the very kind of thinking that leads to a continuation of nationalism and bigotry that in turn leads to the culture wars in the first place.

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