OPEN WOUNDS

Spike Lee says the story in his film blackkklans­man is still rel­e­vant to­day

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - ck­night@postmedia.com CHRIS KNIGHT

Spike Lee de­liv­ered a blis­ter­ing broad­side to U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at the news con­fer­ence for his new film, BlacKkKlans­man, which had its world pre­mière at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val on Mon­day night and re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion at the gala screen­ing.

“That moth­erf---er was given a chance to say we are about love, not hate,” he said of Trump’s re­ac­tion to the far-right rally in Char­lottesville, Va., last sum­mer, which led to the death of counter-pro­tester Heather Heyer after a man de­lib­er­ately drove his car into a crowd. “And that moth­erf---er did not de­nounce the moth­erf---ing Klan, the alt-right and those Nazi moth­erf---ers.”

Lee re­fused to call the pres­i­dent by name, and later apol­o­gized for his lan­guage. “Please ex­cuse me for some pro­fane words, but the sh-that’s go­ing on makes you want to curse.”

BlacKkKlans­man stars John David Wash­ing­ton and Adam Driver in the true story of Ron Stall­worth, the first black cop in Colorado Springs, Colo., in the 1970s. Stall­worth was as­signed to the in­tel­li­gence di­vi­sion, con­tacted the Ku Klux Klan on a whim (pre­tend­ing to be white) and was sur­prised when they wanted to meet. Stall­worth then re­cruited a fel­low of­fi­cer (Adam Driver in the movie) to “play” him, while he con­tin­ued to make phone con­tact with the Klan.

The movie ends with im­ages of the Char­lottesville ri­ots and with footage of Trump’s in­fa­mous “very fine peo­ple on both sides” re­marks in the af­ter­math, as well as an im­age of the Amer­i­can flag in its “dis­tress” po­si­tion, up­side down.

But Lee said this wasn’t the orig­i­nal end­ing to the film, which was al­ready deep into pro­duc­tion when Char­lottesville hap­pened. “I saw what hap­pened,” he said. “Right away I knew this had to be the coda to the film.” He added that he reached out to Heyer’s mother to ask if he could in­clude im­ages of the car at­tack.

It is an un­de­ni­ably pow­er­ful note on which to end a story that takes place in the 1970s but has clear rel­e­vance even now. “Our job was to take this story (and) con­nect this pe­riod piece to the present day,” said Lee.

And to the past. In a nar­ra­tively awk­ward but po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful scene, a char­ac­ter played by 91-year-old

Harry Be­la­fonte de­scribes the 1916 lynch­ing of Jesse Wash­ing­ton; this is in­ter­cut with shots of Klans­men watch­ing the 1915 pro-Klan film The Birth of a Na­tion.

Lee was joined at the news con­fer­ence by stars Wash­ing­ton, Driver, Laura Har­rier (who plays a black stu­dent leader in the film) and To­pher Grace, whose turn as white su­prem­a­cist and then-KKK Grand Wiz­ard David Duke is equal parts buf­foon­ery and evil.

Grace said it was a case of the best of times and the worst of times. On the one hand, he was con­tacted by Lee and asked to ap­pear in his movie; on the other, he was play­ing an odi­ous char­ac­ter that took him to some dark places dur­ing prepa­ra­tion and pro­duc­tion. “I felt that re­spon­si­bil­ity,” he said of play­ing a real per­son. “Peo­ple know who David is. But I did not feel that re­spon­si­bil­ity to David.”

Asked what the orig­i­nal end­ing to his film was, Lee said he couldn’t re­mem­ber. “Once I saw that footage (of Char­lottesville) that was the end­ing.” He also de­clined to pre­dict what af­fect the movie might have on the up­com­ing U.S. midterm elec­tions when it opens in North Amer­ica in Au­gust, the one-year an­niver­sary of the ri­ots.

“All I can hope ... is that this film shakes peo­ple from their slum­ber,” he said. “I don’t have a crys­tal ball, even though my friends call me Ne­gro-damus.”

JOHN PHILLIPS/GETTY IM­AGES

At the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val for his film BlacKkKlans­man, Spike Lee ranted about U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­ac­tion to the deadly far-right rally in Char­lottesville, Va., last sum­mer.

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