Trump­isms speak vol­umes in new Lee movie

BlacKkKlans­man earns pro­longed stand­ing ova­tion at Cannes de­but

The Welland Tribune - - Arts & Life - AN­DREA MAN­DELL

CANNES, FRANCE — Don’t be fooled by the Afros, groovy tunes and boo­gie nights: BlacKkKlans­man is not a pe­riod piece.

It’s a point Spike Lee would like em­pha­sized on this sunny Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. “Can you say that again?” the di­rec­tor asks, as he sits on a ter­race over­look­ing the blue Mediter­ranean.

His lat­est film, BlacKkKlans­man (in the­atres Aug. 10), earned a pro­longed stand­ing ova­tion at its Cannes de­but Mon­day night. The film draws a solid through line from the re­birth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to present day, bas­ing its plot on the true story of Ron Stall­worth, a young black cop (played by John David Wash­ing­ton — yes, son of Den­zel) who in­fil­trated the KKK in the early 1970s in Colorado Springs.

BlacKkklans­man closes with footage from last year’s fa­tal white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesville. The film will be re­leased on the one-year an­niver­sary of the ri­ots.

Trump­isms, from “Amer­ica First” to “Make Amer­ica Great Again” are pep­pered through­out BlacKkKlans­man’s script — a pointed choice by Lee and cowriter Kevin Will­mott (“Chi-Raq”).

“Where that comes from is the 1920s, the sec­ond birth of the Klan,” says Will­mott, also a film pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Kansas. “One of their main slo­gans was ‘Amer­ica First.’ And then it took on an­other level in the 1930s with Charles Lind­bergh and the Amer­i­can Nazi party. If you look at pho­to­graphs, there are huge marches dur­ing that pe­riod with ‘Amer­ica First’ right out front.”

Sit­ting in the Cannes sun­shine with Wash­ing­ton, all three say they con­tinue to ex­pe­ri­ence in­sid­i­ous racism.

“I still at times can’t catch a cab,” says Lee, point­ing to re­cent na­tional head­lines made when cops were called on in­no­cent African-Amer­i­cans fre­quent­ing Star­bucks and check­ing into Airbnb. Wash­ing­ton nods, say­ing he was fol­lowed by a sus­pi­cious sales clerk in a big box store in

New York as re­cently as last sum­mer.

“I’ve had friends on a bus go­ing to school in Kansas, and peo­ple get on the bus and say, ‘White power!’ now,” says Will­mott, who has taken ex­tra se­cu­rity mea­sures as he teaches. Thanks to Kansas’ con­cealed carry laws, “I teach in a bul­let­proof vest.”

BlacKkKlans­man be­gan with a call from pro­ducer Jor­dan Peele, who “called me out of the blue,” says Lee. “He said, ‘Well, a black man joins the KKK ...’ Au­to­mat­i­cally, I thought of the Dave Chap­pelle skit.

“The black white su­prem­a­cist!” in­jects Wash­ing­ton, ref­er­enc­ing a sketch in which Chap­pelle plays a blind black man who joins the KKK, un­aware that he isn’t white.

“I said, ‘Dave Chap­pelle did this al­ready!’ ” Lee jokes.

In the film, Wash­ing­ton and Adam Driver play un­der­cover cops who use the same iden­tity to in­fil­trate a lo­cal Klan chap­ter. By phone, the KKK (in­clud­ing David

Duke, played re­mark­ably by To­pher Grace) un­know­ingly in­ter­faces with Stall­worth’s rookie, code-switch­ing cop.

In face-to-face meet­ings, Driver, play­ing a Jewish cop named Flip Zim­mer­man, as­sumes Stall­worth’s iden­tity.

Driver says liv­ing in New York, he mostly ex­pe­ri­ences sto­ries of white su­prem­a­cists and the alt-right in the news. “If any­thing, I was more aware of it as a kid grow­ing up in In­di­ana be­cause there were al­ways Klan ral­lies like ev­ery sum­mer,” says Driver, who isn’t Jewish. “There were peo­ple in the Klan who were in our neigh­bour­hood.”

To find his star, Lee turned to an ac­tor he’s known since he was a baby. The di­rec­tor first gave Wash­ing­ton, then a child, a small back­ground role in 1992’s Mal­colm X. “I’ve since ma­tured as an artist,” grins Wash­ing­ton, who tran­si­tioned from an NFL ca­reer to act­ing in the past decade, build­ing his re­sumé with in­de­pen­dent films and shows like HBO’s “Ballers.”

“What he’s leav­ing out, though,” Lee cuts in, “is ev­ery day he was scream­ing, ‘I love my job!’ ”

“The Wash­ing­tons and the Lees, we’re tight,” Lee con­tin­ues, en­twin­ing his fin­gers. “So, I love him. But if he couldn’t act — it comes down to is he go­ing to be able to carry this film on­screen?”


Di­rec­tor Spike Lee at­tends the pho­to­call for “BlacKkKlans­man” at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val at Palais des Fes­ti­vals this week.

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