The Cannes Festival gives so much room to new filmmakers that it leaves one in want of excellence, movies by the top echelon guys, the masters, the dream team. 2018 is a good year in this regard, with two master filmmakers, Lars Von Trier and Spike Lee, coming to present films. Last year, there was only one member from that club, Michael Haneke who presented “Happy End.” 2018 marks a comeback, for the aforementioned filmmakers. Lars Von Trier hadn’t been here in nearly seven years, after being declared persona non grata. Spike Lee hadn’t been in Cannes to present a film since 2002, when he was a part of “Ten minutes older,” a collective effort. Sixteen years is a long time without one of America’s greatest dissident filmmakers in the official selection.
He had brought “Jungle Fever” before that, the year was 1991. Lee’s movies are like historical milestones for Americans. Lee has been a provocative figure in the past, getting involved in, or creating controversy. When Clint Eastwood directed “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006, Lee complained that not a single black soldier appeared on screen. After Trayon Martin was shot, an incorrectly-listed address for shooter Robert Zimmerman was circulated on Twitter, Mr. Lee retweeting the erroneous address, which resulted in a lawsuit being filed against him by the actual residents at that address. Lee’s support of black people, outside of movies, was often built on empty threats and fruitless provocations. His films, however, are an important legacy both to cinema and to America.
“Do the right thing” is one of those epochal films, a good slice of American history captured and immortalized, from a time before the Kardashians and the Trumps and neo-conservatism, when the livin’ was easy (it wasn’t, in truth) and America had a different image abroad than it has today.
Whatever preoccupations Spike Lee had at the time of “Do the right thing,” they are obviously still prevalent today. Not a week seems to go by without another black man getting shot by the police, black people get thrown out of stores, an America more racially-divided under Donald J. Trump than perhaps ever before. Meanwhile, the rest of the world look at it with stunned anger, wondering how such a great nation cannot overcome its darkest heritage.
“Blackkklansman” stars John David Washington, a former professional football player who’s been acting since 2015. I’ve always believed in not mentioning lineage, an artist or an actor having the right to assert themselves on their own, but here it is worthwhile to mention that Washington is Denzel Washington’s son—excellent acting stock! Washington gives an excellent performance as Ron Stallworth, a rookie cop whose ambition takes him knocking on the captain’s door to demand undercover assignments.
Black Klansman was adapted by screenwriters Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Lee and Kevin Willmont from the autobiography of Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth.
Stallworth went right up against the Ku Klux Klan in the late sixties in an attempt to thwart their efforts at sowing the seeds of racial divisions further. He headed an undercover investigation that infiltrated a local chapter of the Klan, ultimately foiling a deadly plan. Lee has directed a highly-watchable and captivating drama. And say what you will about him, he’s bellicose, opportunistic, manipulative, too black-centric. And he is, a little bit of all of these, but when a top-shelf director like him so convincingly makes a very good movie that ties together America’s past with its present and asks us, really, have we move forward that much with racism in America, we should listen.