FIGHT THE WHITE POWER

Esquire (Malaysia) - - LAST RE­SORT -

But be­fore he gets to that, Lee has Stall­worth’s story to tell. As played by John David Wash­ing­ton (son of Den­zel), the cop who ex­posed the lead­er­ship of the KKK is a preter­nat­u­rally cock­sure young man who struts his way into the po­lice depart­ment with the swag­ger of the young and brave and for­mi­da­bly Afro’d. “I heard you think you’re hot shit but you ain’t nothin’ but a cold fart,” a fel­low of­fi­cer in­forms him. He’s wrong: Stall­worth is hot shit, a re­al­life John Shaft, with the hair and medal­lion and jive talk to match.

As­signed first to ob­serve a meet­ing of col­lege ac­tivists at which the fa­ther of the Black Power move­ment, Kwame Ture— for­merly Stokely Carmichael—de­liv­ers a barn­storm­ing speech, Stall­worth quickly be­gins a courtship with the ac­tivists’ leader, the beau­ti­ful Pa­trice, played by Laura Har­rier. She’s one of sev­eral strong sup­port­ing play­ers, not the least of whom is Adam Driver, an ac­tor whose pres­ence can tilt even a con­ven­tional film off its cast­ers and send it ca­reen­ing in un­ex­pected direc­tions. (See: Star Wars, and the creepy soul­ful­ness of his Kylo Ren.) So here, amidst the mael­strom of Lee’s crack­pot com­edy-drama, the stage is set for him. Driver is Flip Zim­mer­man, the Jewish po­lice­man forced into un­com­fort­ably close con­tact with the Klan. His mo­ments of off-the-cuff racist ex­tem­po­ris­ing, like Wash­ing­ton’s, are some of the film’s best: first funny, then dis­com­fit­ing, then hor­ri­fy­ing.

And per­haps that’s a fair sum­mary of the film’s ef­fect. Early on, there are mo­ments of purely en­joy­able movie-mak­ing, like a night of danc­ing, when Lee’s fa­mil­iar ex­u­ber­ance is at its best. There’s the gor­geous cin­e­matog­ra­phy of Chayse Irvin, who made Beyoncé’s Le­mon­ade videos, and the groovy score by Ter­ence Blan­chard, who’s been work­ing with Lee for three decades, since School Daze. But the mood dark­ens as the story’s rel­e­vance to present day Amer­ica is made ex­plicit. A world where racist cops bru­talise in­no­cent cit­i­zens be­cause of the colour of their skin. Where white su­prem­a­cists march down Main Street USA. As you might ex­pect, the di­rec­tor pulls no punches. And, of course, the footage from Char­lottesville is pow­er­ful and up­set­ting—and damn­ing.

Lee has had to en­dure much dis­oblig­ing com­ment in re­cent years, and it’s true that the qual­ity of his later work has been patchy. But at par­tic­u­larly febrile mo­ments in Amer­ica’s—in­cred­i­bly— deep­en­ing race re­la­tions cri­sis, from the blaz­ing early films (Do the Right Thing, Mal­colm X) to When the Levees Broke, his mag­nif­i­cent 2007 doc­u­men­tary about Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and its af­ter­math, his has of­ten been among the most es­sen­tial voices in Amer­i­can cul­ture. Here is Lee’s re­sponse. You dig?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.