'Sorry to Bother You' director Boots Riley has some problems with 'BlackKklansman'
Boots Riley has some thoughts on BlacKkKlansman and — spoiler alert — they’re not good.
The Sorry to Bother You director and The Coup frontman posted an essay on Twitter sharing his discontent with the film and the story’s protagonist, a law enforcement officer. In the three-page response to the film, Riley goes into a bit of a history lesson, sharing that Spike Lee’s film took creative license with the based-on-a-true-story tale — something fairly common in Hollywood films based on real life — but alleges that it’s done to paint police in a more positive light.
“[T]o the extent that people of color deal with actual physical attacks and terrorizing due to racism and racist doctrines — we deal with it mostly from the police on a day to day basis. And not just from White cops. From Black cops too. So for Spike to come out with a movie where a story points are fabricated in order make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing, to put it very mildly,” he wrote.
Riley’s response begins by noting that he is a longtime fan of the director: “Spike Lee has been a huge influence on me. He’s the reason I went to film school so many years ago.” But he goes on to remind readers that just as Lee has been vocal about his criticism of other filmmakers, he too has a responsibility to be honest.
“I’m not gonna hold my tongue,” writes Riley.
Based on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 book Black Klansman: A Memoir, BlacKkKlansman follows black Colorado Springs detective Ron (John David Washington), who infiltrates the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. During undercover phone conversations, fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as the face to the voice during in-person meetings. According to Riley, the story and the way it diverges from what happened in real life may just be too perfect. “It’s a made up story in which the false parts of it try to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racial oppression,” he says.
He discusses many of the film’s fictionalized plot points, including Flip Zimmerman’s cultural background, Stallworth’s “radical girlfriend,” the final action sequence, and the arrest of a racist cop, suggesting that these were creative decisions made to portray Stallworth — who Riley calls “the villain” — as someone who has “risked his life to fight racism.”
Riley argues that the real Ron Stallworth “was part of the cointelpro,” the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program, and “infiltrated a Black radical organization for 3 years (not for one event like the movie portrays)” in order to “sabotage a Black radical organization whose intent had to do with at the very least fighting racist oppression,” citing reports acquired via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). He argues that Stallworth’s actions were counter-productive for black causes. “Cointelpro’s objectives were to destroy radical organizations, especially Black radical organizations. Cointelpro papers also show us that when White Supremacist organizations were infiltrated by the FBI and the cops, it was not to disrupt them. They weren’t disrupted. It was to use them to threaten and/or physically attack radical organizations.”
Riley argues that Stallworth’s memoir was written as somewhat of a PR stunt “to put himself in a different light,” adding that Black Klansman was “published by a publisher that specializes in books written by cops.”
Riley ends his tweet and note telling readers that “Spike Lee was paid over $200k” by the NYPD “to help in an ad campaign that was ‘aimed at improving relations with minority communities.’ Whether it actually is or not, Blackkklansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign.”
EW has requested comment from Lee and Stallworth.