This summer marks 50 years since Detroit’s 12th Street Rebellion, one of the most explosive events in our country’s history with civil rights. Years of systemic injustice and aggressive policing tactics lead to this uprising, destroying lives and property and permanently altering the soul of the city as well as the people who call it home.

Kathryn Bigelow, director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, uses this backdrop to tell the story of the Algiers Motel Incident, during which three black lives were lost and a community grieved for justice. In the film, Bigelow creates a portrait of sustained intensity and an historic reminder of a persistent and pervasive bias in the justice system.

I flew out to Detroit for the film’s premiere at the historic Fox Theatre, and to sit with the movie’s impressive young cast, including John Boyega (Star Wars), Algee Smith (The New Edition Story), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), Will Poulter, Malcolm David Kelley, Laz Alonso, and Leon Thomas.

Each actor paid homage to Bigelow’s masterful touch in depicting chaotic moments with a vivid, verite sense, especially in the tense and extended sequence inside the Algiers Motel.

Poulter, whose performance as the racist police officer Krauss is gripping, said, “The immersive nature and the authenticity that was brought about through Kathryn’s design… and all the performances made for a very realistic experience, and in a strange way, it was easy to be in it because everything was so real — but that was so uncomfortable.”

Kelley added, “Her confidence in us as actors to depict these characters was so helpful.”

The film dramatizes historical events, though to many in the cast, the issues felt all too contemporary. “Reflecting on our past allows us to look at a bigger conversation,” said Alonso. “A film like this shows us there’s a broader conversation around a systemic issue that needs to be addressed.”

Thomas added, “A lot of times in modern society, a lot of people think the extent of their activism can only be felt in a tweet, but this film gave each and every creative the chance to speak out about something through art and to resurrect this story…It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and as a black male, I couldn’t be happier to be part of a project like this.”