Rating: R, Time: 2hr 15min, Director: Spike Lee, Cast on IMDb
Do you think Spike Lee gave a balanced look to the film?
Yes. My fear going into the film is that it might be only one sided with very shallow characters similar to the movie Desierto, where the white psychopath villain that shoots Mexican immigrants is really never shown why he is motivated to hunt down strangers. That film got crushed from not having say 1-2 minutes of flashbacks of say a rape or maybe a childhood event that triggered the guy. Not in this film. I think we got very fleshed out characters from the black undercover cop infiltrating the KKK on a whim of one phone call to the KKK organization and its variants within. Its a great beginning scene.
Was there anything that hyped up the film?
As you may know, Spike Lee usually gets independent funding for his films and many advertisers don't want to be connected to a film of this nature as well. A movie like Mo Better Blues is fine to promote, but diving deep into the nature of racism and even recent marches is all negative from an advertisers standpoint. The thing that killed me was I came in 15 minutes after the start thinking I would skip half the ads and I missed the beginning of the film. I am totally kicking myself as it was really an excellent film.
So basically, this film is running under the radar for promotion and likely only reach independent theatres close to urban areas of diverse populations that might like to see this film. That's a shame, since its an important look into racism and the connection to today's society, but the reality is an Avengers or Predator about dumb blockbuster fun will always pull more dollars as people like escapism in movies more than getting educated. Spike Lee really gives a great tension to the movie to keep the audience engaged, as well as super cringey scenes of racism needed to pull it off and historical connections to films like Birth of a Nation that helped give rebirth to racism and the KKK in the 1920s. I think I would add that the Great Depression and the sudden joblessness likely added much of the furor of racism to that era as well. Nothing like being out of a job to drive men crazy. Just look at the rise of Nazism in Germany under horrendous economic strain from the same era.
The bonus to the promotion to the film was there was a real-life police officer on duty at the film. SAY WHAT?? I have never seen any movie that had a cop at the damn theater. I guess the police wanted to really get the movie promoted. It really gave me chills as you realize the police racism kind of is a current still. Or that the police thought we would burn the place down after seeing the film.
What did you think of the characters?
It has this great balance between how a black man Ron Stallworth, who wants to be a police officer survives being a police officer in 1960s America. Obviously, there would have been very few in that day due to the racism within some of the ranks. I liked the flavor that brought to the movie. At the same time, the lead Ron Stallworh is infiltrating the local black student union that is trying to promote black nationalism and black pride, which presents its own "danger" to the local society. So Ron is kind of caught between which type of cop is he: working for the man, overlooking a racist cop in the ranks or the cop trying to take down the KKK. He's all of that and the character is so great because of it.
Our other Ron Stallworth is played by a white cop Flip Zimmerman to play the part on the ground. Here we find another great character who has this Jewish past that he never practiced, so always felt blended into the white class. However, upon pretending to be this rising klansmen, he is confronted by the facts of his ancestry and what that represents to him. In a way, he has the choice to embrace or not embrace his roots, while the black characters with obvious skin and hair differences can never pass as white unless they are 80-90% white ancestry. So how Jewish is he and how far will he stick his neck out to infiltrate the organization and will he be caught/found out. Stay tuned. This is a great cast as Adam is from small town Indiana where there is an under current of racism and KKK activity.
Were there any shocks to the movie?
The real beauty of the film rests on the few snippets of The Birth of a Nation shown in the film. You get just enough of the film to get the historical residue that remains in the US from both the black students view and KKK at the same time. How bold is this by Spike Lee? I think this is the soul of the film that really is why there is a police officer guarding the cinema as we watch. You can feel the tension rise, especially as the director makes the connection to today in the final scenes of the film. I really like how the film is 95% about a moment in time in small town 1970s right after the deaths of Malcolm X and MLK and then these huge story arcs from 1915 to 2017 with a few simple scenes shot. Wow! I got to say this really hits the spot as an excellent film.
What did you think of Spike Lee refusing to see Django Unchained because a white man made it?
On one hand, I really get the reasons why Spike Lee resisted this movie. There have been decades of films that ridiculed and reinforced the poor images of black people that reinforced the racism of the eras those films were produced. There is a real danger to films impact on the mind of youths. I mean probably 90% of films portray black people as villains and thugs. How would you think of yourself as a black boy growing up in such an environment? These types of films reinforce the fear of black people, leading to police over-reacting and killing black people for simple resisting arrest. Of course, the films succeeded because they reinforced the beliefs of the day vs. trying to break the mold too far.
On the other hand, dude.... this is Quentin Tarantino. He is another master film maker of our day, so to avoid his film because he is white is a bit superficial. Plus Django kind of reverses the myth of the black man as villain in the film without taking out the ugliness of slavery. Tarantino really captures the essence of slavery in a mythological story. So I really think Spike should go see it (at least in secret). This is one of the best films ever on slavery and describing how its corrupts all the members of society in its functioning.
In a way, Spike answers the reason why he didn't see it in this film itself as the Ron is having a conversation with this girl Patrice he is trying to date. The black exploitation films of the 1970s really didn't help the black man in the end as it gives false hope or even escapism from the realities of the day. Good points Spike.
Have you done any art related to the film?
If the ballots don't work, bullets do 24x36 inches
One painting I did was of Malcolm X, which Spike covered in his film Malcolm X. My take has all the elements of Malcolm in the background of the painting. For example, I have the crescent moon of Nation of Islam next to the local KKK symbol of the group that lynched Malcolm's father. In my symbolism, racism at the hand of whites or blacks are the endpoints of Malcolm's life. I also have other parts like where he danced in the Cotton Club, his prison mug shot as well as juxtaposed photos of products suggesting white purity or black evilness like the Gerber baby next to Bamboozled image from 1930s America used in Spike Lee's early film. I really connect with this imagery having grown up in a half black/white neighborhood and later being separated from it. I went from being the cool white kid that my black friends embraced to later separation of some of these same friends when they were with their new black friends. So racism cuts both ways. Obviously, the main issue is the continued oppression of black people in the US in this painting not my minor slights.
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