Over 20 Years of Spike Lee Making Me Angry

One of the first movies I remember seeing in theaters was Malcolm X. Even at the age of 4, I understood that I was watching something meaningful, something impactful. I may not have understood the nuances of what was being said or why it was happening. But, what I did understand that whatever was happening was wrong. I was angry. It was right there in my face.

Even before Malcolm X, director Spike Lee has always had a way of creating compelling, hard hitting visual narratives that examine the black experience in a brazen, unabashed way. Things that a lot of critics over the years have complained about, such as his productions being “preachy” or “brash” are precisely the reasons that I not only enjoy them, but deem them as necessary. Lee’s unwavering brand of addressing race relations and our current social climate while layering in humor makes for unapologetically, honest films. BlacKkKlansman, of course, is no different.

Based on the true story of a black police officer who infiltrates the KKK with his Jewish partner, BlackkKlansman is arguably one of Lee’s most impactful, comical and culturally significant films of recent years. As a cinephile, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Watching Kylo Ren (I know his real name is Adam Driver) use the “n word” multiple times had me clutching my metaphoric pearls in the back row of the theatre. Topher Grace’s surprising hilarious portrayal of David Duke made me almost forgive him for allowing himself to be horrendously cast as Venom in Spider-Man 3. I don’t think I can ever fully forgive him for that, if we are being honest. Both John David Washington as the “code-switching” newly “woke” Ron Stallworth and Laura Harrier as his activist love interest a la Angela Davis Patrice Dumas, posed the age old of question of activism: what is the right way to revolutionize? Can it be done from the inside or is it impossible to break a system while within it?.

As with all his of his movies, Lee makes distinctive and unquestionable parallels to the past and today’s social and political climate. Images of Charlottesville “Tiki Torch” marches clearly mirroring those of the KKK during the days of public lynching. Scenes of the klan members chanting “America first” echoing in my ears sounded way too recent for comfort. The scene of the racist, enabling wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson, The Wolf of Wall Street) falsely accusing Stallworth of rape to incite police brutality is eerily similar to the seemingly endless surge of viral videos showing white people falsely accusing black people of crimes for merely existing. These parallels cannot continue to be unnoticed and undiscussed.

I have read reviews calling BlacKkKlansman “ham fisted” and “obnoxious” as it shoves it’s message down our cinema loving throats. “We came to be entertained!” these voices yell out behind their computer screens. People leaving comments bellowing at the fact that there is another movie about race, another talk about race. The cries of those with the privilege to be able to look at the movie, as just that: a movie. A vessel for their enjoyment. If you as a consumer are tired of hearing about racism in America, then help to create a society where we don’t have talk about it. Attempts to ignore our societal problems won’t make them go away. Pretending racism isn’t still alive and prevalent in the daily lives of black Americans doesn’t make them cease to exist or change our reality.

We shouldn’t have to be afraid to take a stand against bigotry and hate. Like Lee, use your creative platform to continue to raise awareness. Atum Ra, creator of Melanated and Illuminated Media / Action One and well-known and respected activist in the Houston area, says “We have to keep networking. There are a lot of organizations and places, like S.H.A.P.E Center, that are doing things.” (S.H.A.P.E. Center is a community center located in the Third Ward district of Houston that provides programs and services such as free lunches for children, job training and healthy living seminars.) Ra also discusses the importance of getting our youth involved. “I believe it is important for youth to see examples…exposure is key. I feel that black youth can excel like any other youth if they are exposed to more at a young age. Working with the youth will help lay the foundation for the next generation.” Use your time and resources, whatever they may be, to create a better future for our youth. The consciousness that fuels a violent supremacy mindset needs to be extinguished. Vote out those who wish to continue to have a system in which those who do not wish for harmony can hide behind unjust laws. Speak out against injustices you see. These are no means the only solutions, but it’s a start.

Most importantly, don’t let people tell you not to be angry. It’s your right to feel strongly and passionately about things that impact your very being. Things that negatively impact you for no other reason than the color of your skin.

I left BlacKkKlansman the same way I left Malcom X over 20 years ago: thoroughly impacted and once again, angry. Angry that this movie still has to be made. Angry that people are still complacent in their approach to quell the hateful, racist violent rhetoric towards people of color that is being consistently spewed under the guise of “free speech”. Angry that even with the evidence shoved into people’s faces, the countless stories, videos and pictures stew across their televisions and computers, faces of victims, their families, their friends, they still can pretend that is not an issue. There is a cognitive dissidence going on and I’m sick of it. But, in the words Malcom X himself, “Usually when people are sad, they don’t do anything. They just cry over their condition. But when they get angry, they bring about a change.” I am angry. But, I am no longer a child. I can do something about this anger. It’s time. It’s right there in my face.