A movie that I have found myself revisiting several times since it was released is Spike Lee’s 2018 film “Blackkklansman.” For one thing, it’s immensely entertaining. The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), who became the first black officer in the Colorado Springs police department in the early 1970s. With the help of his white partner Flip (played by Adam Driver), he goes undercover as a white man to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. The story unfolds in ways both funny and thrilling, and the immediate conflict is satisfactorily resolved. But Lee makes it clear that this is not the end of the story. As Ron and his girlfriend Patrice (a Black Student Union activist played by Laura Harrier) contemplate their future at their apartment, their story closes with them facing a knock on their door with guns drawn, as KKK members gather around a burning cross outside their window. The fight is far from over, the fate of our heroes uncertain, and a film that opens with a scene from the Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind” showing sympathy for Confederate soldiers closes with real footage from the 2017 Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 135 minutes, Lee effectively traces the history of racism in the United States, while making a clear statement that racism is still alive and well in this country today, as President Trump fuels the fire by claiming that there are “good people on both sides.”
The President’s language has continued to promote a clear racist message against black citizens in answer to the protests responding to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by police officers in Minneapolis on May 26, 2020. You need look no further than a pair of his tweets: in response to white protesters armed with assault rifles storming the Michigan state capitol to protest stay home orders in place to protect people from the COVID-19 pandemic on May 1, the President said, “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.” In the early hours of May 29th, in response to minority protesters gathering in Minneapolis over Floyd’s murder (protests that devolved into looting and burning after police showed up in riot gear, armed with tear gas), the President referred to the protesters as “thugs,” tweeting that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The difference in language between these two tweets based on the groups they are directed at is staggering, but they sum up not just the thoughts of one man, but the feelings of too many people in America right now. How many of you rebelled against the idea of having to wear a facemask in public to prevent the spread of disease, considering it a violation of your rights, but are now condemning the actions of those who just want to be able to take a walk without feeling like they are risking their lives?
I realize that using a film in which the police are shown as heroes as a basis for this discussion when people are currently combating police brutality, and the police (as well as white non-protestors) have been the primary instigators of violence in the protests that have occurred over the last several days (and if you don’t believe this, the video evidence is everywhere—we tend to drag social media a lot nowadays but it is currently being employed as an effective tool for justice) isn’t 100% great. I do believe that “Blackkklansman” is still an important, provocative film for the way that it connects the sins of our past to the sins of our present, and in its acknowledgment that the fight is ongoing. I do believe that movies, both fictional and non, have the power to educate, inspire, and change hearts and minds in ways that no other medium does. I am providing a list of other films that effectively address the topic of racism that I recommend watching, but please realize that these resources are to be used as tools, not as forms of escapism.
Do not ignore what is happening in this country, right outside our windows, right now. And if your gut reaction to what you’re seeing is “well I was on their side until the looting started, but now I don’t care,” take a moment to consider why you feel that way. Because if you aren’t 100% against the destruction of systemic racism, then you are against it.
Oh, and don’t forget about that pandemic that’s still going on. Wear a mask.
This website has been circling around a lot the last couple days and I’ve found it to be a good resource consolidating petitions, causes to donate to, information for those protesting, and more: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#
Here are some films are recommend watching, and where you can watch them:
- “Blackkklansman” (2018), dir. Spike Lee
- “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), dir. Barry Jenkins
- “Sorry to Bother You” (2018), dir. Boots Riley
- “13th” (2016), dir. Ava DuVernay
- “See You Yesterday” (2019), dir. Stefon Bristol
- “Moonlight” (2016), dir. Barry Jenkins
- “Blackkklansman” (2018), dir. Spike Lee
ON DISNEY PLUS
- “Black Panther” (2018), dir. Ryan Coogler
AVAILABLE TO RENT ON VUDU, ITUNES, AMAZON, AND MORE
- “Fruitvale Station” (2013), dir. Ryan Coogler
- “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961), dir. Daniel Petrie
- “I Am Not Your Negro” (2016), dir. Raoul Peck
- “Selma” (2014), dir. Ava DuVernay
- “The Hate U Give” (2018), dir. George Tillman Jr.
- “Just Mercy” (2019), dir. Daniel Cretton (“Just Mercy” has also been made available to watch on demand for free for the month of June)
- “Get Out” (2017), dir. Jordan Peele
- “Us” (2019), dir. Jordan Peele
- “Do the Right Thing” (1989), dir. Spike Lee
- “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2019), dir. Joe Talbot
- “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), dir. Robert Mulligan
- “Boyz n the Hood” (1991), dir. John Singleton
- “Killer of Sheep” (1978), dir. Charles Burnett (“Killer of Sheep” may be difficult to find on demand but it is available on DVD)
These are just what I could think of off the top of my head—if you have any other suggestions please feel free to contribute them in the comments and I will add them to the list.