Wednesday, February 13, 2019


BlacKkKlansman is nominated for six Academy Awards this year: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.

How did Spike Lee get involved with the film BlacKkKlansman? He says, “Jordan Peele called me up with a six word pitch: ‘A black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan,’” Lee told a packed house at the Egyptian Theatre last December after a screening of his film. The Lee retrospective also included screenings of his beloved films Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, and Crooklyn. During the Q&A, Lee introduced two men who have been members of his filmmaking team for decades: composer Terence Blanchard and editor Barry Alexander Brown.

Lee hadn’t heard of this true story of Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth. John David Washington, the son of Denzel and Pauletta Washington, earned the lead role in BlacKkKlansman, but his professional association with Lee went back to Malcolm X, in which he appeared at age six.

The director went on to discuss the vital role music plays in his work. “I’m always thinking about music,” Lee emphasized. “Music is one of the main tools the filmmaker has. I give musicians love,” he concluded.

“I knew that we needed a song to end this movie,” said Spike Lee referring to the music used in the credits of BlacKkKlansman. He went on to relate that the Negro spiritual “Mary Don’t You Weep,” is Prince on piano with no band backing him. “They found this cassette in his vault. I think my brother Prince gave me that. He wanted me to have it,” Lee said of the cassette that he described as having appeared out of nowhere. “It means a lot because this is what kept our ancestors alive,” he said, referencing the impact of spirituals on the enslaved Africans working in the fields.

Lee shared that while preparing for Malcolm X, he told Blanchard that the score “has got to be big.” The three-hour biopic of the black Muslim leader did indeed turn out to be epic, score included.

The director continued to muse about Malcolm X, opining, “Denzel Washington reincarnated Malcolm,” and sharing that Washington spent four years preparing his character. “Some of his speeches were better than Malcolm’s,” joked Lee.

The tribute concluded with a screening of Crooklyn (1994), a family drama inspired by Lee’s own upbringing in Brooklyn. Like Do the Right Thing it captures the flavor, the color and the sounds of an inner city neighborhood, but with more of a focus on the domestic atmosphere.

“I’m not bragging, but the good shit lasts,” concluded Lee. The retrospective made clear that the social issues depicted in Lee’s films have yet to be resolved – for example, the police choke-hold that killed Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing is eerily reminiscent of the one that killed Eric Garner in 2014. Extant racial tensions like those depicted in BlacKkKlansman are highlighted at the end of the film with Lee’s inclusion of documentary footage from the violent events in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017.

Standing ovations accompanied both Lee’s entrance and exit from the Egyptian Theatre.

See BLACKKKLANSMAN for free Feb. 13 at the Aero Theatre, followed by a discussion with composer Terence Blanchard.

Additional reporting by Margot Gerber.