Cannes Film Fest 2018: Spike Lee, Denouncing Trump, Connecting Past and Present of Black Oppression

Spike Lee delivered a blistering attack against Donald Trump, refusing to mention the president by name, while firmly claiming that it was his moral and artistic duty to speak out in the aftermath of last year’s deadly riots in Charlottesville.

Appearing at a press conference alongside the stars of “BlacKkKlansman,” which world premiered in Cannes Film Fest to great acclaim on Monday night, the director said the film was on the “right side of history” while denouncing the president for not taking a firm stance in the wake of violence that erupted after a white nationalist rally, leaving three people dead.

“That motherf–ker was given a chance to say we are about love, and not hate, and that motherf–ker did not denounce the motherf–king Klan, the alt-right, and those Nazi motherf–kers,” he said.

“It was a defining moment, and he could’ve said to the world…that we were better than that.”

The film is timely, relevant, provocative, and entertaining, reresenting a major comeback for Lee, who has not made an accessible or commercial film in quite some time.

Though set in the 1970s, Lee said it was “our job as filmmakers and storytellers to connect this period piece to the present day.” He framed the film in the context of the bloody history of a country that was built upon “the genocide of native people, and slavery, as the fabric of the United States of America.”

He added, “What’s happening did not just pop up out of thin air.”

Lee recalled watching the Charlottesville violence unfold on CNN while in Martha’s Vineyard, and recognizing “right away” that the footage “had to be my coda for the film.”

Heather Heyer Footage

The director got permission from the mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a man drove a Dodge Charger into a crowd of protesters, to use footage of her death in the movie. “I was not gonna put that murder scene in the film without her blessing,” he said.

Focus will release “BlacKkKlansman” in the U.S. on the one-year anniversary of the riots, which Lee described as an “ugly blemish on the United States of America.”

Calling the film a “wake-up call,” he repeatedly returned to the moral failings of President Trump, while adding that the rise in right-wing hate speech and violence had become a global scourge. “We look to our leaders to give us direction, to make moral decisions, and I like to say this is not just something that pertains to the United States of America, this bulls–t is going all over the world,” he said.

“We have to wake up,” Lee added. “And we can’t be silent.”

“BlacKkKlansman” is peppered with digs at the current president – one KKK member talks about embracing an “America first” policy – while drawing parallels between the rise of Trump and the political aspirations of former Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). After the premiere, the film received a six-minute standing ovation.