by G. Brown
Spike Lee’s “BlackkKlansman” may not have been a box office blockbuster, but it was no box office bum either. The movie opened to a pretty respectable $10.8 million a couple of weeks ago. That’s a less than other so-called “Black” movies like “The First Purge”($68m) and “Sorry to Bother You”($15m).
While “BlackkKlansman” has been touted as one of the most relative movies during these times of racial tension, the filmmaker behind “Sorry to Bother” says these racially vexing times is exactly why Lee’s movie is dangerous.
Boots Riley penned a three-page essay on Twitter enumerating his problems with Lee’s movie. With a few initial disclaimers such as acknowledging Lee’s impact on his career, Riley began to dismantle the movie that earned a 10 minute standing ovation at Sundance.
Riley’s first criticism–“…Blackkklansman is not a true story…. it is precisely its untrue elements that make a cop a hero against racism.” Riley continued noting that this is a made up story that’s regaling a cop as the hero on screen when in the real world cops have are shooting unarmed Blacks routinely. Riley says, “It’s being put [out] while Black Lives Matter is a discussion…For Spike to come out with a movie where story points are fabricated in order to make a black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing…”
Lee has built his entire career on films that provide commentary and at as magnifying glass on the problems of race in this country–not just Black vs White, but Black vs Black and the issue of colorism. So while “BlackkKlansman” fits in the Lee niche of going against the system, Riley says Lee is going along with the system and being used to deceive people. The director refers to a New York Post article that says Lee was hired by the NYPD last year to improve its relationship with Blacks and minorities. Riley says, “...Lee was paid over $200,000 to help in an ad campaign that was ‘aimed at improving relations with minority communities,’” He continued saying, “Whether it actually is or not, BlacKkKlansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign.”
Lee like Riley is not one known for “holding his tongue“, but thus far Lee is holding his tongue since we haven’t heard or read any kind of response. Or maybe Lee is thinking ‘this is how Tyler Perry must have felt when I trashed his films’. Lee made some pretty harsh criticisms of Perry’s Madea movies dismissing them as modern day coonery. Now, Lee’s work is being dismissed as nothing more than a shill for the man. Wow, karma really is a bit—bitter pill to swallow.
Both Lee and Riley are respected filmmakers with movies that appeal to Black audiences. Both men are opinionated, smart, artistic and great storytellers. So why does this feel like Black on Black crime? Can’t two films by different directors of color exist in theaters at the same time without one detracting from the other? I didn’t seem the makers of “Mission Impossible Fallout” complaining that “Equalizer 2” was going to steal their movie money?
Riley’s beef is not petty, he makes some pretty valid points, but it still feels like Black on Black director crime. If we want a more diverse Hollywood where more than just White men make films, we’re going to have to understand that means more than one Black male director at a time. Ideally, we should have as many Black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, and anybody else can pile on, men and women as we have White men and women. Sometimes that means Black directors will go head to head at the box office. But let’s leave it at the box office and not go after one another off screen. In the words of Rodney King, “can’t we all get along?”
What do you think…is Riley right in his criticism of Lee? Should he have made his issues public or should he have talked to Lee face-to-face? Is his about doing the right thing or is it about professional jealousy?