Cannes Film Festival

Spike Lee's satirical KKK film 'a wake-up call'

BlacKkKlansman marks a return to Cannes for film-maker Spike Lee (left), with the movie in the running for the Palme d'Or top prize.
BlacKkKlansman marks a return to Cannes for film-maker Spike Lee (above), with the movie in the running for the Palme d'Or top prize.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CANNES • Spike Lee wants love to trump hate. His satirical movie about supremacist group Ku Klux Klan may be set in the 1970s, but it is really about the deadly racism that is still prevalent in the United States, he said in Cannes.

BlacKkKlansman, based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK, stars John David Washington, son of actor Denzel Washington, and Adam Driver, who plays a white officer who helps him pull off the subterfuge.

At the end of the film, satirical comedy gives way to news footage of a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed, and clips of US President Donald Trump blaming "both sides" for the violence.

A quietly furious Lee used a news conference in Cannes on Tuesday to express his opinion on that.

Mr Trump was "given a chance to say, 'We are about love and not hate.' And (he) did not denounce the Klan... It was a defining moment and he could have said to the world... that we were better than that".

But Mr Trump, two days after the event, did say that the KKK and similar groups were "repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans".

That was too late for Lee.

"This film, to me, is a wake-up call. Because we've gone for the 'okey doke', walking around in a daze, and stuff is happening and it's topsy-turvy and fake has been trumpeted as truth," he said.

"That's what this film is about and I know in my heart, I don't care what the critics say or anybody else, we are on the right side of history with this film."

At the BlacKkKlansman premiere, the audience laughed and applauded scenes in which KKK members use distinctly Trumpian rhetoric, saying, for example, that purging the country of ethnic minorities would "make America great again".

IndieWire critic David Ehrlich said: "Far more frightening than it is funny (especially after Lee connects the dots from Colorado Springs to Charlottesville), BlacKkKlansman packages such weighty and ultra-relevant subjects into the form of a wildly uneven, but consistently entertaining night at the movies."

The film marks a return to Cannes for Lee almost 30 years after Do The Right Thing - about the tensions between residents and an Italian-American family in a black neighbourhood in New York - missed out on the Palme d'Or top prize.

BlacKkKlansman is in the running for this year's award, set to be handed out on Saturday.

On the Charlottesville news footage, Lee said: "I called up Heather's mother Susan Bro. I was not going to put that in unless she gave me her blessing."

He gave her his sympathies and then said: "Mrs Bro, I want to end BlacKkKlansman with the murder of your daughter.'"

Lee added that, after a silence, she told him: "Spike, put it in."

The film will open in August, a year after the Charlottesville incident. "That's what this film is about," Lee said. "It's about today.

"Are we going to go forward or backward?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Spike Lee's satirical KKK film 'a wake-up call' '. Print Edition | Subscribe