Michael Bolton Praises Detroit in New Documentary

The Grammy award-winning singer celebrated the past, present, and future of the Motor City in his ‘American Dream: Detroit’ film

On Tuesday, May 15, UA Commerce Township Stadium 14 in Walled Lake — in partnership with 450 other cinemas across the country — staged an exclusive, one-night showing of the documentary “American Dream: Detroit.” The film was co-directed by singer-songwriter, Michael Bolton and his manager, Christina Kline, and was brought to audiences across the country by event cinema distributor, Fathom Events, and Bolton’s media company, Passion Films.

“We looked for theaters that have performed well for our past music and documentary events and also focused heavily in the Detroit area,” Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events wrote in an email to Hour Detroit. “That said, we pitch the event to our founding members (AMC, Regal and Cinemark), and they ultimately choose which theaters take the content.”

Over the course of 90 minutes, Bolton presented a “love letter to the city of Detroit.” His goal was to honor Detroit through an analysis of its glorious past, evolving present, promising future, and importance on the national scale.

“The protagonist of this story is a city,” Bolton said, amidst a montage of scenes from Detroit’s past and present. “Some of the greatest people I ever met, Detroiters.”

Several important figures that call the city home made cameos: legendary singer-songwriters Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson; Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc.; William Ford Jr., executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.; famed film director, producer, and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola; and Mayor Mike Duggan.

Many reflected over their childhood in the city. Robinson and Franklin explained how they and fellow singer-songwriter, Diana Ross, grew up together on the north end of Detroit. Shaun Robinson, former co-host of entertainment and celebrity news program, Access Hollywood, gushed over her favorite haunts, including Belle Isle Park, Palmer Park, and Greektown. Rock singer Alice Cooper talked about going to Red Wings games with his father at Olympia Stadium. Director and producer Jerry Bruckheimer reflected on his Detroit upbringing as a first generation American — his parents immigrated from Germany. 

Fashion designer John Varvatos and journalist Mitch Albom appeared as well.

Bolton made nods to all of Detroit’s identities over the first half of the 20th century. As the “industrial backbone” of the country during World War II due to its thriving automotive industry. As the birthplace of the middle class — families who had disposable income. As a melting pot of immigrants who came from around the world to have a great life. And as a cultural mecca boasting venues like Fox Theatre where the iconic artists of Motown performed.

Bolton has a deep love for Motown, and Detroit first caught his eye while he was researching for his album, “A Tribute to Hitsville USA.” Though the former recording studio is now museum, Bolton considers it to be a lab once filled with master scientists at work. Some of Motown’s key players including musician and producer, Quincy Jones, and songwriting and production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland were featured in the documentary

Bolton’s ultimate goal was to also shed light on the city’s true story — a story he finds blurred by the media’s continual focusing on Detroit’s undoing.

“Detroit’s music and manufacturing was fueling the world,” Bolton said on screen. “So, what happened?”

Racial tensions were not overlooked. Albom, in conjuction with several others, explained the racial divide between black and white people during the city’s heyday. As white people with money began leaving Detroit, a phenomenon known as “White Flight,” the city took several economic blows. These were exacerbated by the oil embargo of the 1970s, the economic downturn in the 1980s, and the crippling 2007-09 recession. These were the events that would lead to the Motor City’s downfall over the course of four decades, and by 2013, the city itself would file for bankruptcy.

But Detroit would not go down without a fight. Bolton addressed the present growth happening in the city through the stories of young entrepreneurs, who Bolton believes holds the keys to the future. The audience heard from commercial real estate firm, Bedrock Detroit; Melissa Price, CEO of interior design firm, dPOP; Jason Hall, co-founder of the bicycling nonprofit, Slow Roll; Bridget Russo, former chief marketing officer of Shinola; and Veronika Scott, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Plan, which employs women that are homeless or living in shelters to sew coats that turn into sleeping bags.

Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, LLC., spoke as well. The move of his business into several buildings throughout downtown Detroit has been pivotal in the city’s rebound.

Click here to learn more about “American Dream: Detroit” from Fathom Events.

*Editor’s Note: An original version of this story mislabeled Shaun Robinson as a male reporter. The article has been updated to accurately represent Robinson’s gender.