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John David Washington received the Distinguished Performance Award at this year’s SCAD Savannah Film Festival for BlacKkKlansman, where he opened up about the film’s timeliness and political relevance in 2018.

After a screening of the film on Wednesday, EW’s Bill Keith moderated a Q&A with Washington, who drew parallels between the film’s explorations of race in the 1970s and the divided current political climate.

“This is a period piece, but this is a very contemporary, time-sensitive subject,” he told the audience. “And it shows you how generational hate is.”

Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs in the ’70s. Adam Driver plays his Jewish partner, and although the film is mostly concerned with Stallworth’s story, it also makes allusions to current political climate, ending with footage from the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I think maybe we might have gotten lulled to sleep a little bit in the past administration,” Washington said. “Spike, as he always does, reminds us how people are living and thinking in this country. It was a scary moment and realization for me of how divided we are. And we have to hopefully do something about that. I’m trying to do my part through the arts and crafts to service that measure of inclusion. “

Credit: David Lee/Focus Features

Washington also opened up about balancing BlacKkKlansmans serious themes with its occasionally more comedic tone. (He joked that whenever he needed to focus on set, he turned to Driver, who “looked at me with those piercing, Darth Vader eyes.”)

“Spike is a great momentum recognizer,” Washington said. “He’s a master at cinema tone, so we weren’t playing for jokes. We weren’t playing to be funny. The hilarity stems from how ridiculous the story is, but we’re standing on a foundation of truth and actuality. So we could push it and enjoy ourselves, but there were no false moments.”

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