clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

8 Detroit documentaries you can stream right now

Be moved by these excellent documentaries about Detroit

A portrait of a man wearing a black coat and sunglasses. He has a darker complexion and wrinkled face.
Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter and the subject of Searching for Sugar Man.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

Detroit has always fascinated filmmakers and viewers alike. Given its fraught history, technological innovations, and unprecedented decline, the city has been a subject of many well-made documentaries over the years.

Now that Detroiters are spending so much time at home, it’s a great opportunity to dive into some of those films, which cover topics as varied as the the city’s musical heritage, history of crime, and the hope and tragedy of modern Detroit.

Below are eight great documentaries about Detroit available on various streaming services. If we missed your favorite, let us know in the comments.


Searching for Sugar Man

Detroit singer-songwriter Rodriguez making a couple of fantastic, but largely ignored albums in the early 1970s, then “disappeared.” The filmmakers of Searching for Sugar Man not only found him, but learned that he had a huge following in an unlikely place: South Africa.
Where to watch: Netflix, YouTube

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

If you haven’t seen this documentary or follow Motown obsessively, then you might have never heard of the supremely talented studio band, the Funk Brothers, that played on nearly every no. 1 single produced at the label. This beautiful film is a tribute to them.
Where to watch: Amazon

Burn

“Arson capital of the United States,” where a whole day (Devil’s Night) was once dedicated to burning buildings for fun—Detroit had a fire problem. Released in 2012, Burn follows a company in the Detroit Fire Department over the course of a year as they try to deal with the city’s unrelenting fires.
Where to watch: Amazon, Hulu, Google Play

American Revolutionary

A biography of Grace Lee Boggs, the inspiring and thought-provoking Detroit activist who wrote and taught about creating a sustainable, post-industrial future. She died shortly after the film was released at 100 years old.
Where to watch: Amazon

Murder City: Detroit

Another entry in the “crime” series of documentaries about Detroit, Murder City catalogues the city’s long history of gang violence, like the Purple Gang active during Prohibition or Young Boys Inc. involved in the heroin trade in the 1970s.
Where to watch: YouTube

Losing Detroit

Detroit suffered, perhaps more than any other city, from unfathomable levels of tax and mortgage foreclosure. Losing Detroit profiles residents fighting to keep their homes as investors try to scoop them up for cheap.
Where to watch: Amazon

Detropia

Released during the post-bankruptcy era at an all-time low in the city’s history, Detropia captures a certain melancholy (and beauty) about a decaying rust belt town. Critics said the film trafficked in “ruin porn,” with its ceaseless images of dilapidated buildings and downtrodden residents, but there’s undoubtedly a power here as well.
Where to watch: Apple

The United States of Detroit

In contrast to Detropia, this film offers a much sunnier portrait of the city’s trajectory. Instead of focusing on its downfall, The United States of Detroit details resilient residents and newcomers leading the city towards its current resurgence.
Where to watch: Amazon

There are two other documentaries we’d like to mention, but which are unfortunately not available to stream at the moment. Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win about attorney Ken Cockrel Sr. and his fight against oppressive police tactics, and 12th and Clairmount, about the 1967 civil unrest. We’ll update this article if they become available.