After the world premiere in Competition of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman electrified a sleepy Cannes Film Festival on Monday night, Lee gave the press corps a jolt this afternoon. He discussed the incredible true story set of the 70s-set film and its timely dovetailing with the Trump era and the rise of the alt-right (although he never mentioned POTUS by name), as well as his use of charged language and how he decided on the movie’s final sequence.
BlacKkKlansman follows a black detective named Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, even becoming phone pals with the notorious David Duke (Topher Grace) in order to thwart a suspected attack. Adam Driver plays the detective who subs for Stallworth in his face-to-face meetings with the KKK.
The end of the film shows actual footage from Charlottesvillle and other recent racially-charged incidents. Although Charlottesville occurred after the film was finished, Lee said when he saw it while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, “Right away, I knew that this had to be, you might use the word ‘coda’ for the film. But I had to do something first.” Lee called the mother of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old paralegal who was fatally injured in the attack. “I was not going to put that murder scene in the film without her blessing.”
He was given permission and used the footage in the movie because, “That was a murder and we have a guy in the White House who had a chance to say we are about love and not about hate and that motherf***er did not denouce the Klan, the alt right and those Nazi motherf***ers.”
In such a “defining moment,” Trump “could have said to the world, not just the United States of America, that we were better than that… We look to our leaders. They give us direction to make moral decisions. This does not just pertain to the United States. This right wing bulls*** is all over the world and we have to wake up and we can’t be silent.”
Lee was adamant that the film carries a message for the world, “I do hope that people from other countries will see it. One of the criticsims of Do The Right Thing was that I didn’t supply the answer to racisim. I didn’t have the answer; it was to start discussion. Same with this film… When you see wrong staring you dead in the face and you’re like mum’s the word, then you’re helping.”
The film features its share of upsetting language including repeated racial epithets. Lee wouldn’t be led to a discussion of his previous remarks regarding Quentin Tarantino on the subject, but said, “Words can be hateful. I don’t think I was elaborating how the Klan talks about anybody. The way we had people speak is the way they speak. Those words are harmful and it was my decision to whoever sees this film they hear those words. I wanted the hate to be verbalized.”
Grace said of playing Duke, which included watching old Phil Donahue programs as part of the research, “I got this call from my agent saying Spike wants you to play this role. It was one of the best times in my life, followed by one of the worst times in my lfie because I spent a month listening to all this crap.”
The movie is enjoying some of Lee’s best notices in over a decade, but reviews are not top of mind for him. The film “is a wake-up call because we’ve gone from walking around in a daze and stuff was happening and fake has been trumpeted as the truth. That’s what this film is about and I know in my heart, I don’t care wht the critics say or anybody else, we are on the right side of history with this film.”
Could the movie’s timing affect mid-term elections in the U.S.?, Lee was asked. He didn’t directly respond, but said, “During the (presidential) election, the guy in the office now said he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and people would still vote for him. I thought this guy is crazy, but it was one of the few things he was right about.”
Focus Features releases BlacKkKlansman on August 10 domestically, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville. The Blumhouse/Legendary title will go out via Universal internationally also beginning in August.