After snagging nominations at the Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Awards, SAG Awards, BAFTAs and more, Spike Lee‘s “BlacKkKlansman” has emerged as one of the leading contenders in the Oscar race for Best Picture. It tells the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s with the help of a Jewish officer (Adam Driver). Gold Derby recently spoke with Driver, screenwriters Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, cinematographer Chayse Irvin, production designer Curt Beech, film editor Barry Alexander Brown, composer Terence Blanchard and hair stylist LaWanda M. Pierre about their work.
“There’s obviously an importance to the story overall that you want to get right,” says Driver. Though it’s set in the late 1970s, Lee makes direct references to both our past and present, from D.W. Griffith‘s KKK-glorifying 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” to the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA. In providing that historical context, Driver believes the director shows “how much this has been a part of the conversation in this country for so long.” And in playing a Jewish officer coming to terms with his own identity, Driver has earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and Independent Spirit Awards.
“It’s written very much like a police report,” says Wachtel about Stallworth’s 2014 memoir that served as source material for the film. “Ron was a cop, so it’s not written in a way that immediately lends itself to being cinematic, so you have to take what is in the book, work with it and build it into this cinematic universe.”
Although Wachtel and Rabinowitz are credited with the screenplay alongside Lee, they did not actually meet him until the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered and won the Grand Prix. But Rabinowitz explains that “when you give [a script] to Spike Lee you’re hoping that he makes it into a Spike Lee film. You want him to put his stamp on it. It’s always hard to give your script away … but again, if you’re going to have somebody do a pass of your script, have it be Spike Lee.” It has paid off for them with nominations at the WGA, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA Awards.
Brown earned an ACE Eddie Award nomination for his editing work on “BlacKkKlansman.” Long before that, though, he received an Oscar bid as the director of the documentary “The War at Home.” He turned to editing after working on a scene for Lee’s first feature, “She’s Gotta Have It,” which led to a long partnership that has spanned “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “25th Hour,” “Inside Man,” and several other titles.
Blanchard received BAFTA and Grammy nominations for his “BlacKkKlansman” score, and he previously competed at the Golden Globes for composing the aforementioned “25th Hour.” Like Brown, he has collaborated with Lee several other times, including on “Malcolm X” and “Clockers.”
Beech previously worked with Lee on the production design for Netflix’s recent adaptation of “She’s Gotta Have It.” And his work on films like “Star Trek,” “The Social Network,” “The Help” and “Lincoln” earned him nominations from the Art Directors Guild.
Prior to “BlacKkKlansman” Irvin was perhaps best known as one of the cinematographers of Beyonce‘s epic music film “Lemonade.” He also worked with Lee on another 2018 release, “Pass Over.”
Though she didn’t make the official academy short list, Pierre did receive a bid at the Make-Up Artists and Hairstylist Guild Awards. She previously teamed up with Lee on “Red Hook Summer” and “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” as well as the TV version of “She’s Gotta Have It.”
Click on any name below to be taken to their full interview:
Adam Driver, who plays Flip Zimmerman
Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, screenwriters
Chayse Irvin, cinematographer
Curt Beech, production designer
Barry Alexander Brown, film editor
Terence Blanchard, composer
LaWanda M. Pierre, hair department head
Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominations are announced on January 22.