Cannes 2018 review: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

“They’re killing us like dogs!”

For decades, Spike Lee has been dealing with race issues in his filmography. Over thirty years and twenty features later, what makes a film feel so urgent?

I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids and
I wish I was fed forgiveness

Kendrick Lamar: DNA (2017)

The plot barely matters.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is a young, educated black man from Colorado Springs, USA. He enters the local police force, faces discrimination by some of his workmates.

Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now
Yeah, this is America
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap
I gotta carry ’em

Childish Gambino: This is America (2018)


“We were born in jail.”

Our hero is placed in a dilemma. To fight a racist system, he chooses to join the very institution that embodies ethnic profiling in the United States: the police. A sign is placed outside the police station in Colorado Springs. They’re calling for minorities to apply for a J-O-B there. When Ron is interviewed by the sergeant, he is warned he could be subject to racist slurs within the police body. How can a black person become a cop? It’s a Trojan horse scenario.

Prison system broken, racial war commotion
Until the president get ashy, Vincent won’t be votin’
We need Tamikas and Shaniquas in that Oval Office
Obama ain’t enough for me, we only getting started

Vince Staples: BagBak (2017)

“That’s why we need more people in public office!” the film literally cries. Racism is institutionalized. Woodrow Wilson praised The Birth of a Nation shortly after screening it in the White House. Nobel-winning physicist William Shockley, referenced by the KKK characters in the film, publicly declared US blacks were less intelligent due to racial genetic limitations. His award has not been retired. The current POTUS reached office after an aggressive, ethnically profiled nationalistic campaign.

The plot barely matters.

Ron quickly gets assigned to infiltrate both the Black Student League and the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. With the help of Jewish colleague Flip Zimmmerman (Adam Driver), who passes as Ron in meetings, they rise to the top of the local chapter.

All you Black folks, you must go
All you Mexicans, you must go
And all you poor folks, you must go
Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways

A Tribe Called Quest: We the People (2016)

After some sort of improvement from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement to the Feminist and LGBT movements in the US – and worldwide – the Trump Era is a step backwards. It is once again okay to be racist, to blame immigrants, to ban sexual minorities, to harass women.

The plot barely matters.

As National KKK leader David Duke (Topher Grace) programs a visit to the city, he becomes friends with Ron through their frequent phone calls. To honour Duke’s visit, the most extreme Klan members plan an attack aimed at Patrice (Laura Harrier), Black Student leader and Ron’s love interest.

And hit the mute button, let the vagina have a monologue

Janelle Monáe: Django Jane (2018)

Though the story is centered on males, Lee’s depiction of women denotes a concern for the role women play in political movements. Stallworth’s story takes place in the late ’70s, when gender oppression by men was even stronger than today. Regardless, Patrice and colleague Odetta (Damaris Lewis) are portrayed as undisputed leaders in the local community of black students.

Don’t touch my pride
They say the glory’s all mine
Don’t test my mouth
They say the truth is my sound

Solange Knowles: Don’t touch my hair (2016)

This is a Spike Lee joint. A confessed homage to black pulp that mocks the inbred nature of racist white trash at every opportunity. An over-the-top political satire that mocks Donald Trump’s slogans but still manages to insert Harry Belafonte in a cameo so elegant it overshadows David Duke’s fascist speech scene. After two hours of an entertaining but hardly groundbreaking political satire, the ending sequence takes us back to reality. The one that’s truly violent, the one that needs an answer.

If I could smoke fear away, I’d roll that mothafucka up
And then I’d take two puffs
I’m high now, I’m high now
I’m high now, I’m high now
Life’s a bitch, pull them panties to the side now
(I don’t think I could find a way to make it on this Earth)

Kendrick Lamar: FEAR (2017)

All power to the people.