Spike Lee On His New Film BlacKkKlansman


There are many Spike Lee Joints that aim for a little nostalgia, like the hip 10-episode Netflix reboot of She's Gotta Have It — of which the iconic director has been shooting a second season of on the sweltering streets of his beloved hometown of Brooklyn. ("It's Day 15 of a 50-day shoot and it's hot out here," he says with a laugh.) And then there are the explosive works that are a constant in Lee's trailblazing career of nearly four decades. These are the titles that force filmgoers to look in the mirror and at the world around them with a different set of lenses while also sparking heated Jordan vs. LeBron-caliber debates among critics. (Think 1989's Do The Right Thing or 1992's Malcolm X.) But when Lee's latest directorial project, BlacKkKlansman — loosely based on the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, a Black ex-cop in Colorado Springs who infiltrated the local Ku Klux Klan chapter in 1979 — made its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the audience gave it a standing ovation. Still, fireworks later erupted when Lee delivered a blistering expletive-filled broadside against the Trump White House at a Q&A session that turned into an instant viral video sensation. With BlacKkKlansman hitting cinemas in August on the anniversary of the Charlottesville, Va., White supremacist rally, The Crisis sat down with Lee to talk about directing Denzel Washington's son, John David Washington, depicting the KKK and teaming up with comedian-turned-director/producer Jordan Peele. The Crisis: BlacKkKlansman makes a thematic link between the KKK of the late 1970s and the Charlottesville, Va., attack of 2017 — in which Heather Heyer, a counter-protester was killed at the White nationalist rally. Why was this connection made? Spike Lee: I love history. What (screenwriter) Kevin Willmott and I wanted to do — and I think we've accomplished it — is to connect history with what's happening today. We felt that if we could do that, we would be on our way to having a successful film. You've watched John David Washington grow up. And now he's carrying this film as lead actor. Assess his performance and why he was cast? As soon as I joined the project, I automatically knew that John David Washington could do it. I offered him the role right away. There was no audition for it. I knew he could do it, and he delivered. There are significant periods in the film when the audience is left to spend time with KKK members and (former Grand Wizard) David Duke. What did you tap into in order to bring those portrayals to the screen? Well, I was not afraid of portraying them as they are. I don't think I had to make them “old racists with good hearts.” I didn't want to do that. We lost people. People have been murdered — and not just African-Americans. So, I was not really thinking about whether it would hurt the feelings of any Klan members. That was not my concern. You're collaborating with Jordan Peele on this project. What are your thoughts about his emergence and his body of work thus far? I'm a big fan and supporter of Jordan Peele and Get Out. And I'm very glad he called me for BlacKkKlansman. This is his project. At the time of its release, Do the Right Thing was seen as a referendum on the state of New York after more than a decade of then-Mayor Ed Koch, even though he wasn't central to the plot of the storyline. But President Donald Trump factors into BlacKkKlansman in a much more concrete way. Why? There's a big difference between being a mayor of New York and being in the White House. This guy [Trump] has the nuclear codes. And this is a matter of life and death. — Curtis Stephen is a freelance writer in Brooklyn.

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The Crisis magazine is a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color.

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