The morning after setting the Cannes Film Festival alight with its world premiere — good enough to earn director Spike Lee a near-ten minute standing ovation — the team behind Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” sat for an impassioned, often incendiary press conference. Lee’s film, while based on the improbable true story of black police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Lee’s “Malcolm X” star Denzel Washington), who infiltrated the KKK in Colorado in the early ’70s, is as timely as ever, ending with a stirring coda centered on last year’s Charlottesville conflict.
The documentary footage concludes with a dedication to Heather Heyer, who was killed during a counterprotest against the right wing march that unfolded in Virginia last summer. Lee explained at the press conference that, while the coda was added after the film was completed, he always knew that it needed to be included in the final film.
“I knew that this had to be the coda for the film, but I had to do something first,” he said. “I was given Susan Bro’s phone number. She is the mother of Heather Heyer, who got murdered when that car came crashing down the street. I was not gonna put that murder scene in the film without her blessing. Mrs. Bro said, ‘Spike, I give you permission to put that in.’”
He continued, “Once I got permission, I said, ‘Fuck everybody else, that motherfucking scene is staying in the motherfucking movie.’ Cuz that was a murder.” Lee also called the incident an “ugly, ugly, ugly blemish on the United States of America” and added that “Heather should be alive now. It’s a murderous act.”
David Lee/Focus Features
The “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” filmmaker then spun off into a near-five-minute speech about Charlottesville, the state of America today, and of course, President Donald Trump and the “right-wing bullshit” that has come to define his presidency.
“We have a guy in the White House — I’m not gonna say his fucking name — who defined that moment [post-Charlottesville] not just for Americans but the world, and that motherfucker was given the chance to say we are about love, not hate,” Lee said. “And that motherfucker did not denounce the motherfucking Klan, the alt-right, and those Nazis motherfuckers. It was a defining moment, and he could have said to the world, not just the United States, that we were better than that.”
In IndieWire’s review of “BlacKkKlansman,” critic David Ehrlich called the film a “funny and righteously furious ‘fuck you’ to Trump,” and notes that Lee “connects the dots from Colorado Springs to Charlottesville” in a frightening fashion.
At the press conference, Lee didn’t limit his comments to just America, and went on to point firmly at the rest of the world, and his hopes that the film could serve as a wake up call to many.
“I like to say this is not just something that pertains to the United States of America, this bullshit has gone over the world,” Lee said. “This right-wing bullshit is not just America, it is all over the world, and we have to wake up. We can’t be silent. It’s not a black, white, or brown [problem], it’s everybody.”
He added, “This film, to me, is a wake-up call because…stuff is happening, and it’s topsy-turvy and the fake has been trumpeted as the truth. That’s what this film is about. I know my heart, I don’t care what the critics say or anybody else, but we are on the right side of history with this film.”
Focus Features will release “BlacKkKlansman” on August 10, timed to the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville march.
Additional reporting by Anne Thompson.