Years may have passed but things haven’t changed for racial discrimination, says the director of this upcoming film.
On 12th August 2017, at around 1pm on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, a woman was murdered.
Heather Heyer didn’t know it at the time, but her choice to be there that day was to become significant.
As a Unite the Right alt-right rally marched its way through the city, igniting the flame of racial hatred and white supremacy, Heather, among many others, was there trying to put out the fire.
While she walked down the street with her friend, a car, intent on maiming, smashed its way into a group of counter-protestors. Heather was killed, and with her death, became the unexpected figurehead for a new era of racial tension.
It’s no accident that on the anniversary of her death one year later director Spike Lee chose to release his upcoming film BlacKkKlansman, set to hit cinemas here on 16th August.
Based on an astonishing true story, the comedy follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black cop to join the Colorado Springs police department. Back in 1974, that in itself was something that would cause a sensation – but it’s what Ron did next that was far more compelling.
After spotting an advert in the local paper soliciting members to found a new chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs, Stallworth was intrigued – and decided to apply as part of an undercover investigation.
Once a fully-fledged member, Stallworth, together with a white colleague, hatched a plan to infiltrate the group at its highest level, collecting recordings, befriending the then-Grand Wizard and leader David Duke and exposing the plans to incite racial hatred.
For Lee, although the film is set in the 70s, the vitriolic racism it portrays is still just as painful and real now as it was then, and it is made all the more poignant by Heather Heyer’s death.
“We have a guy in the White House who defined that moment not just for Americans but the world, and [he] was given the chance to say we are about love, not hate,” he said in an impassioned speech as the film aired at the Cannes Film Festival. “And [he] did not denounce the Klan, the alt-right and those Nazis.
“We have to wake up,” he continued. “We can’t be silent. It’s not a black, white or brown [problem], it’s everybody.”
But releasing the film on the anniversary of Heyer’s death wasn’t a big enough message for Lee; after the credits rolled, he included the heartbreaking footage of the moment she was hit.
For Lee, it wasn’t a moment of voyeurism, it was a moment for pause.
“We started shooting in September. When Charlottesville happened, I knew that was going
to be the ending,” he later told Rolling Stone. “I first needed to ask Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, for permission. This is someone whose daughter has been murdered in an American act of terrorism — homegrown, apple-pie, hot-dog, baseball, cotton-candy Americana.
“Wake up,” he urged. “Be alert. Don’t fall asleep. Let’s make the best of the time we have on this earth, and not get into this hate. I do know my art’s going to be around a long time after I’m gone. That’s all you can hope for – that your life made an impact. In a positive way.”
Also starring: Alec Baldwin, Adam Driver, Damaris Lewis and Topher Grace
Running time: 100 mins
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