[Note: This article discusses plot points from BlacKkKlansman.]
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman isn’t burning down the box office, but it’s done quite well for itself due not only to the pedigree of its talent, but also a slew of positive reviews and plenty of Oscar buzz. That said, not everybody is so enamored. Boots Riley, the filmmaker behind this year’s Sorry To Bother You, dropped a three-page critique of the film on Twitter last week that made some intriguing points about the real-life history of Ron Stallworth and the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Office, namely that it targeted black radical groups more than it ever did the KKK. For Riley, the revisionist history coupled with the film’s abundance of good-guy cops—there’s essentially only one bad apple in their department—felt irresponsible.
“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, to put it very mildly,” Riley wrote.
Now, in a new interview with The Times, Lee says he’s “not going to comment on that” before directly commenting on it. “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 color. I’m not going to say that. I mean, we need police,” he said. “Unfortunately, police in a lot of instances have not upheld the law; they have broken the law. But I’d also like to say, sir, that black people are not a monolithic group.”
Later, Lee says that “this stuff”—seemingly referring to Riley’s critique—could “dilute the message of my film.” He added, “I know it is not going to do me any good to comment.”
It’s an interesting spot for Lee to be in, as the filmmaker himself has never been reticent to share his own opinions on a colleague’s work. As The Times notes, he once accused Tyler Perry’s House of Payne of “coonery and buffoonery,” though he now tells the interview he and Perry “are good” after having an hours-long talk. One hopes he and Riley one day get the chance to do the same.