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