“We had to connect the past with the present day,” said director Spike Lee when discussing his film “BlacKkKlansman” recently with press and industry members in New York City. Sadly, it wasn’t difficult to find parallels between the Ku Klux Klan of the 1970s, when the film is set, and our current cultural moment. The white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which resulted in the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer, demonstrated with brutal clarity how relevant this history still is. Watch Lee discuss his film above.
“The phrase ‘America first’ — the Klan was saying that in the ’20s against immigrants … This hate stuff is from the same playbook. It’s recycled again and again,” Lee explained about the broader historical context of his film. It tells the true story of a black police officer (played by John David Washington) who infiltrated the Klan in the ’70s, but “BlacKkKlansman” also references the notorious 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the KKK and led to the group’s resurgence in the 20th century. And it ends with footage from Charlottesville.
Lee didn’t initially see the “tiki torch motherfuckers” who descended on Charlottesville on Friday night, August 11, chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us,” but then came Heyer’s murder on August 12. “It was homegrown, red, white and blue American terrorism,” said Lee. “We Americans have been brainwashed thinking that terrorism is only for ISIS or some Islamic people. No, we terrorize each other more than anybody else.”
That’s why the filmmaker felt it was so urgent to reference Charlottesville and Heyer’s killing, with the permission of her mother Susan Bro. And that’s why he wanted the film to be released this past August on the anniversary of the deadly rally. In some aspects America has come a long way, but after centuries of racist terrorism we clearly still have a long way to go.
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