BlackKkKlansman: Spike Lee’s M.O.

The story behind Spike Lee's “BlacKkKlansman”—and Boots Riley's criticism  of it — Quartz

There is something to be said about Spike Lee. He is a great writer, producer, and director who is not afraid to get his hands dirty for his work. Movies such as Malcolm X and BlackKkKlansman are no different. They are great movies in their own right and offer a lot to the much-needed discussion about race in this country. Both films are based on historical events, and while they may be slightly hyperbolic in some scenes, they are still able to pass a message on to their audience that these movies exist for a reason. They exist to create discussions around the issues of race and how people historically ignored the plight of black people in the U.S.. In a Forbes interview in 2018, Spike Lee discussed the issue with him being called “controversial” and how people used that as a label to paint him in a negative light and potentially ignore his work. That is not to say he is not controversial; he has had public arguments against other prominent actors and directors, he’s been accused of being sexist and misogynistic against women, and he has even gotten into confrontations with President Trump. All of these can be things that would potentially push people away from Lee’s movies. I won’t lie, I personally was not a fan of Spike Lee prior to this class, as I saw him as someone willing to write movies for shock value. But it could be argued that he is someone necessary for us to look at and watch.

As I watched BlackKkKlansman, I could not help but think of the movie Detroit, which came out in 2017. The movie details a siege by the National Guard and Detroit Police Department on a motel where black patrons were forcefully interrogated, beaten, and even killed. This movie was also based on historical evidence but was ignored because it was 1) seen as potentially controversial and 2) did not have as “controversial” of a director behind it. – Kathryn Ann Bigelow is also a great director but does not have as much “stigma” behind her as Spike Lee does. – I think that the notoriety that Spike Lee has gives him the ability to tackle some of the complicated topics we have to consider in our own histories.

While I can offer praise for BlackKkKlansman, as it portrays issues with racism, police corruption, discrimination, and brutality, I also have to offer plenty of criticism. One of the reasons Spike Lee is often cited as being controversial is because of the political and racial portrays in some of his works. The ending to BlackKkKlansman is an example of one of those scenes that would get him labeled as such. It is generally understood that the Unite the Right Rally that took place in Charlottesville in 2017 showed that there is still racial disconnect and racism active in the United States, but I also think that Lee is trying to equate what happened in 2017 to what was happening in the 1970s. I understand that we are only 50 years separated from this timeframe, but we as a country have also made progress. Accusations of racism can end careers and put companies on high alert for their employees now. Every sector, from education to the corporate world has begun to focus on the need for diversity in their populations. I am not arguing that racism is over and fixed in this country, but I believe that Lee equating Charlottesville, a relatively unique event, to 1970s America is unfair, and downplays the progress that has been made in the last 50 years. There’s a reason President Trump keeps being asked to denounce white supremacy, not because it is the norm, but because his support would be an exception.

2 comments

  1. I am not so sure that Lee was equating the two as much as he was portraying how the same unjust, corrupt, and racist systems have remained fairly intact and unrelenting in America. While we might have become more culturally progressive, and to an extent our policy making has as well, our systems have not – and I think that is what the focus is. Also, while Trump’s inability to vocally denounce white supremacy may be the exception, the maintenance of white supremacy in our political system is definitely not the exception (and this is true across party lines and systems).

  2. I would go as far as to say that there is a strong relationship and similarity between the two events as a lot of the same structural inequities still exist. The difference is that there is more public condemnation of these kinds of beliefs. However, it did not stop 73 + million people from voting for a man who couldn’t.

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