Spike Lee on ‘BlacKkKlansman’: It’s Not ‘Just a History Lesson’

By Sameer Rao May 16, 2018

Spike Lee weaves White supremacist imagery, from the early 20th century to now, throughout his latest film, "BlacKkKlansman."

Some of these images, as reported by The New York Times yesterday (May 15), came from D.W. Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan-celebrating film, "The Birth of a Nation." Lee, who debuted "BlacKkKlansman" at the Cannes Film Festival this week, traces his relationship with Griffith’s movie back to his film school days at New York University. 

“What got me mad is that they only talked about Griffith and not the effect that film had," Lee told The Times from Cannes. "‘The Birth of a Nation,’ undeniably, led to the rebirth of the Klan. So you can see, directly or indirectly, people were killed because of that film. It never came up.”

"BlacKkKlansman" draws a line from this history to its central story about Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, "Monsters and Men"), a real life Black Colorado Springs Police Department detective who infiltrates and sabotages a local KKK chapter in the 1970s. Lee brings in the present day with footage from the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which he added after he finished shooting the film. 

“It cannot be just a history lesson,” Lee said about "BlacKkKlansman," which hits theaters on August 10. “It has to be contemporary. So that was the hip thing that we did. Otherwise, it’s a period piece." He continued, "We had to connect David Duke to Agent Orange today," referencing President Donald Trump.