From ‘Uncle Drew’ to ‘Be Cool,’ Dan Washington returns to Detroit as a man of music and history

Like many African-American artists and pundits, Washington wrote a letter to then-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick regarding cuts in police funding that had stirred racial unrest in the city. (Washington’s letter is included in Access to a Word). Among the necessary budget cuts, Kilpatrick ordered that African-American officers should not carry assault rifles.

Washington wrote, “I look at you with a mix of contempt and alarm. This sends a dangerous message to urban communities. I am personally frightened that if you agree with this, then we should assume that in our inner cities, the same would go for non-African-American police officers carrying assault rifles. What a tempting outcome.”

Washington has returned to Detroit many times since the firing of Kilpatrick, though his last visit was a couple of years ago, his publicist says. He also helped raise more than $1 million for the city of Detroit in 2014. Washington’s upcoming films include the thriller “Uncle Drew,” starring Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Hart, and the drama “London Has Fallen.” The next installment of “The Equalizer” is set for 2019, and he will executive produce the Hulu series “Castle Rock,” based on the Stephen King books.

“Washington’s work in Detroit speaks for itself,” said Kevin Keating, a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “It’s inspired by the form of music that has emerged from the city, and he understands that. When you see Washington acting in Detroit, you see that very detailed knowledge of the history, the music and how it’s interconnected.”

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