Spike Lee delivered a scathing speech criticizing the United States president Tuesday night at the Cannes Film Festival, refusing to mention Donald Trump by name as he tore into his failure to unite a nation divided by racial tensions.
Following the world premiere screening of his Cannes competition title BlacKkKlansman — a true story following a black detective’s (John David Washington) plot to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan with help from a white colleague (Adam Driver) in 1970s Colorado — Lee blasted the country’s fractured state during the film’s press conference as he explained the project’s closing moments. According to various reports from the festival, BlacKkKlansman ends with a documentary montage of the August 2017 Charlottesville conflict and a dedication to Heather Heyer, an attendee who was killed when a man plowed his vehicle through a group of anti-white-nationalist protestors.
“We have a guy in the White House — I’m not gonna say his f—ing name — who defined that moment not just for Americans but the world, and that motherfu—er was given the chance to say we are about love, not hate. And that motherfu—er did not denounce the motherfu—ing Klan, the alt-right, and those Nazi motherfu—ers,” Lee said, per Vulture, adding that the Heyer’s killing was an “ugly blemish” on the U.S. “It was a defining moment, and he could have said to the world, not just the United States, that we were better than that.”
Following the Charlottesville protests, Trump did, however, hold a press conference on Aug. 14, 2017, during which he said: “To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered… we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.”
“As I’ve said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws… we must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans,” Trump’s speech continued. “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear.”
According to Vulture, Lee went on to address the turbulent racial history of the U.S., particularly the “genocide of native people and slavery” he called “the fabric” of the region.
“We look to our leaders. They give us direction to make moral decisions,” in trying times, he continued. “And I like to say this is not just something that pertains to the United States of America, this bulls— has gone over the world. This right-wing bulls— is not just America, it is all over the world, and we have to wake up. We can’t be silent. It’s not a black, white, or brown [problem], it’s everybody. We all live on this planet, and this guy in the White House has the nuclear code.”
As he’s long touched on hot-button issues in his work (notably his 1989 classic Do the Right Thing, which tells a larger story about race relations in the U.S. through the eyes of several Brooklyn residents), Lee said he views his new film as a “wake-up call” to the disturbing realities pervading the culture that inspired it.
“Stuff is happening, and it’s topsy-turvy, and the fake has been trumpeted as the truth,” he finished. “That’s what this film is about. I know my heart, I don’t care what the critics say or anybody else, but we are on the right side of history with this film. Please excuse me for some profane words but the s— that’s going on, it makes you want to curse.”
BlacKkKlansman — which Cannes attendees have largely hailed as his “masterpiece” and a “savvy indictment of Trump-era bigotry” — hits theaters on Aug. 10, two days shy of the one-year anniversary of Heyer’s death.