In a rapidly changing America where mass inequality and dwindling opportunity have devastated the black working class, three Detroit men must fight to build something lasting for themselves and future generations. Street Fighting Men, which celebrates dogged persistence in the face of overwhelming adversity, takes a deep, observational dive into the lives of three African American men: retired cop Jack Rabbit, who continues to patrol the mean streets as a citizen; Deris, who has made bad choices in the past but wants to further his education and serve as a role model for his baby daughter; and Luke, who labors mightily as he rehabs a dilapidated house while putting together a meager living. Shot over three years in the neighborhoods of Detroit, Street Fighting Men is a story of hard work, faith and manhood in a community left to fend for itself.


“Here comes trouble.”




While the national conversation has touted Detroit’s “recovery,” the precarious situation of life-long residents in the neighborhoods of Detroit has not improved since filming began in 2010. From a February 2017 report in CityLab: "Detroit is two very different cities – one white and privileged, the other black and deprived. Large-scale purchases, refurbishments and upgrades in Downtown/Midtown by developer and Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert contrast sharply with the decay that continues to dominate post-apocalyptic neighborhood landscapes, inhabited by long-time Detroit residents who are not sharing in the city’s growing but highly limited prosperity."

In an article for Guernica magazine, John Patrick Leary of Wayne State University categorized three types of stories that are emerging in the public imagination of Detroit: Detroit as ruin porn, Detroit as utopian possibility, and Detroit as metonym for the American condition. However, as Detroit blogger Willy Staley points out, “…the neighborhoods of Detroit tell the real story.”

Street Fighting Men takes place in the neighborhoods, where the real fight over Detroit’s future is being waged every day. For the people who live here, Detroit is not a blank slate, it is their home -- where they have invested their lives, families, and memories.


“I keep getting all these second chances.”




Street Fighting Men is a cinematic, character-driven nonfiction narrative that speaks to the challenges of our times. Inspired by the approach of early vérité pioneers, Andrew James spent over three years filming in Detroit capturing the stories as they unfolded. With an emphasis on shot, mood, tone and character, the film is designed to be rich and experiential. Borrowing from the visual language and philosophy of neorealism, and featuring a beautiful score by Detroit-based musician, Shigeto, Street Fighting Men is an emotionally powerful, visually compelling journey into the forgotten neighborhoods of Detroit; a place that embodies the greatest challenges we still face as a country.


“I should not be over there.”




I became interested in making a film in Detroit after reading a Metro Times article about James “Jack Rabbit” Jackson. The article featured a picture of Jack Rabbit standing on a street corner at night with his partner, Keith, close behind him. The two men, Jack Rabbit in particular, had taken it upon themselves to be the neighborhood watch in the face of growing crime and dwindling public services - and their story of resistance resonated with me.

Jack Rabbit’s story and the struggle of his largely black working-class neighborhood is the struggle of our times. Its urgency is fueled by an runaway economic system which has completely left behind poor and working people. I contacted Jack Rabbit and asked him if we could meet. He was enthusiastic about the idea and excited to tell his story and the story of his neighborhood. After spending some time in Detroit and meeting Deris and Luke, we knew we had to broaden the scope of the film to include them. 

It was then that I decided to move to Detroit - to capture the stories of Jack Rabbit, Deris and Luke as they unfolded. I felt that a longitudinal, fly on the wall style would allow me time to get to know the community better and find the story in collaboration with the subjects. This extended time in the field allowed me to form close bonds with the three men, and it gave me a unique opportunity to tell their stories in a very personal and emotional way.  - Andrew James