Spike Lee puts Trump in Cannes firing line

Charlottesville riot provides powerful coda to film

by Richard Mowe

Spike Lee
Spike Lee Photo: Richard Mowe

Spike Lee was on feisty and combative form today (15 May) after the première last night of his new film in the Cannes Film Festival Competition. BlacKkKlansman relates the true story of an undercover African-American detective in the Seventies who manages to infiltrate the Klu Klux Klan.

In Lee’s firing line was a certain occupant of the White House who refused to condemn the actions of white nationalists during the deadly 2017 Charlottesville riot, which features in real footage at the end of the film.

John David Washington
John David Washington Photo: Richard Mowe

Lee draws parallels between the rise of Donald Trump and the political ambitions of the former Grand Wizard of the Klan David Duke (Topher Grace) and his talk of embracing the policy of “America first.”

He had permission to use the actual footage from the mother of Heather Heyer who died in the incident when a car crashed into pedestrians.

Lee explained that the tragedy happened after he had finished filming. “Once I realised what had happened and saw the footage I knew it had to be the coda for the film. Heather’s mother Susan gave me permission to put in the film otherwise I would not have done it.

“That was a murder and we have a guy in the White House at a defining moment. He was given a chance to say we are about love and not about hate and that motherfucker did not denounce the Klan and all those Nazi style motherfuckers. He could have said to the world that this is the United State and we are better than that. But you have to remember that this country was built on the genocide of native people and slavery.”

Lee stressed that we had to look to our leaders to give us direction and to make moral decisions.

“This rightwing bullshit is going on all over the world. We have to wake up and we cannot be silent. It is everybody, not white, black or brown.”

He added that he rarely slept easily knowing that the guy in White House has a nuclear code. “I go to bed every night thinking about it,” he said.

Laura Harrier
Laura Harrier Photo: Richard Mowe

He hoped his film was a wake up call. We are walking around in a daze, but we must stop this kind of thing happening. Fake is trumpeted as a truth and that is what this film is about. We are on the right side of history in this film - I do not care what anybody else thinks.”

Lee excused himself for the use of some of his profane words.

The film will be released in the US on the first anniversary of Charlottesville, which he described as “an ugly blemish on the States - like a mini civil war battle without the guns but with fists and sticks.”

With no moral standpoint coming from Trump he suggested that this gave the hate groups permission “to come out of the woodwork.”

Lee, at 61, describes himself purely and simply as a storyteller who has been doing the job for three decades. “Making a good film is a miracle - I am not complaining. You have to go to work but I was blessed with the talent I had around me.”

John David Washington (son of Denzel) said he had met the cop he plays in the film. “It was fortunate I was able to talk to him and he made so much available to me technically as well as spiritually.”

Lee who shot on film rather than digitally to give the visuals a Seventies look, had the last word, saying he believed in hope. “I am not deaf or blind but I can be hopeful and I hope this film serves to shake up people from their slumbers. We must not let things slide when all know the difference between right and wrong.”

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