Spike Lee Responds to Boots Riley's Critique of BlacKkKlansman: 'We Need Police'

Illustration for article titled Spike Lee Responds to Boots Riley's Critique of BlacKkKlansman: 'We Need Police'
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More than a week after director and musician Boots Riley delivered a pointed and detailed critique of BlacKkKlansman and its portrayal of police officers, filmmaker Spike Lee has a response.


Riley shared the three-page criticism on Twitter (warning: it does contain spoilers) on Aug. 17, citing Lee as a “huge influence” on his own filmmaking but arguing that Lee’s latest film, inspired by Ron Stallworth, a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, leaned into “untrue elements that make a cop a hero against racism.”

“It’s a made-up story in which the false parts of it to try to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racist oppression,” he wrote. “It’s being put while Black Lives Matter is a discussion, and this is not coincidental. There is a viewpoint behind it.”

Riley also called out Lee for his work consulting on an NYPD ad campaign allegedly aimed at “improving relations with minority communities”—a job for which he was paid more than $200,000.

“Whether it actually is or not, BlacKkKlansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign,” the Sorry to Bother You director wrote.

While Lee didn’t refer to Riley by name, or reference the specific critique, in a recent interview with The Times, Lee defended his body of work, particularly when it comes to police portrayals.


“Look at my films: they’ve been very critical of the police, but on the other hand I’m never going to say all police are corrupt, that all police hate people of colour. I’m not going to say that,” Lee told the U.K. paper.

“I mean, we need police. Unfortunately, police in a lot of instances have not upheld the law; they have broken the law,” Lee continued. “But I’d also like to say, sir, that black people are not a monolithic group. I have had black people say, ‘How can a bourgeois person like Spike Lee do Malcolm X?’


While many critics and moviegoers have given rave reviews to BlacKkKlansman, other have expressed concern over elements of the film, including the way one montage toward the end of the film appeared to center white people in the civil rights movement.


When The Root’s Danielle Young asked Lee about one such scene that gave her pause, Lee responded:

“If you look the civil rights movement, white people died in Mississippi, Alabama, Kent State during the Vietnam protests. White people have died for justice. So it was not a matter of saying, ‘I can’t put Heather Heyer at the end of the film because she’s not black.”


Citing Adam Driver’s character in BlacKkKlansman as another example, Lee continued, “It’s not a black and white thing for me. Heather Heyer was on the side of truth, of justice.”

Staff writer, The Root.


Jae watches the world turn day-glo

I respect both Boots Riley and Spike Lee. I have seen Sorry to Bother You a few times and it is genuinely an uncompromising work of art. Makes me wonder if as a child Boots watched the Wizard of Oz while listening to Sun Ra’s The Magic City played backwards. It is a brilliant afro-futuristic, afropunk socio-political film.

Now my view on Blackkklansman. Have their been white allies in the civil rights movement through the years? Of course! Have their been far more white allies to the perpetuation of racism? Of course!

Upon seeing the movie I understood why white audiences have embraced this film. It largely flatters and gently coaxes them to be better versions of themselves. It ignores the blaring facts of the FBI plus almost every cop champions justice!  Yes it glosses over Ron Stallworth’s infiltration to sabotage a Black anti-oppression organization. (On this planet being against oppression is radical)

I wonder if Spike intentionally framed the movie in this manner in response towards past accusations from most whites and many blacks of being “too in your face”. A phrase born from the ingrained “know your place” aspect of privilege and repeated by us because we’ve learned to not upset “them”. Ask nicely if at all then wait then wait and see.

Did Spike dispense with many truths? Absolutely but he also shone light on others as in the scene with Harry Belafonte. Was there a pro-police agenda? Extremely. I agree with Boots yet this an interesting film that sparks conversation. (I love the Black Panther movie, seen it numerous times and chalk up its pro-CIA message to Status Quo proproganda)

At best I hope Blackkklansman inspires its viewers to pull back the curtain, learn the truth and fight for all power to all people.