Spike Lee has infiltrated the Oscars in a big way with “BlacKkKlansman,” which earned six bids including Best Picture and Best Director. It recounts the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his Jewish partner (Adam Driver). Gold Derby recently spoke with Driver, screenwriters Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, film editor Barry Alexander Brown, and composer Terence Blanchard about their nominated work.
Though it’s set in the late 1970s, the film uses D.W. Griffith‘s KKK-glorifying 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” and the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, to draw parallels between our past and our present. Driver believes that context shows “how much [racism] has been a part of the conversation in this country for so long.” For his role as an officer coming to terms with his own identity while masquerading as a Klansman, Driver has earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the BAFTA, Golden Globe, SAG, Critics’ Choice, and Independent Spirit Awards, in addition to his career-first Oscar nom.
Stallworth’s 2014 memoir is “written very much like a police report,” says co-writer Wachtel, who used it 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.”
Despite being nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay with Lee, Wachtel and Rabinowitz did not actually meet the filmmaker until the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered and won the Grand Prix; the director had rewritten their script with Kevin Willmott. But Rabinowitz explains, “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.” While it’s hard to put your own hard work in someone else’s hands, “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 a win at the BAFTAs and nominations at the Writers Guild and Critics’ Choice Awards.
Brown earned Oscar and ACE Eddie Award nominations 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” (1979). He turned to editing after working on a scene for Lee’s first feature, “She’s Gotta Have It” (1986), which led to a long partnership that has spanned “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Malcolm X” (1992), “25th Hour” (2002), “Inside Man” (2006) and several other titles.
Composer Blanchard recently won a Grammy and received a BAFTA nomination for his “BlacKkKlansman” score, and he previously competed at the Golden Globes for his music for the aforementioned “25th Hour.” Like Brown, he has collaborated with Lee several other times, including on “Malcolm X” and “Clockers” (1995).
Click on their names below to be taken to their full interviews:
Adam Driver, who plays Flip Zimmerman
Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, screenwriters
Barry Alexander Brown, film editor
Terence Blanchard, composer
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 winners are announced on February 24.