Spike Lee hasn’t forgotten.
Around this time in 1989, Spike Lee’s iconic film Do the Right Thing was beaten out by Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape for the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. Lee said he was “robbed,” threatened jury president Wim Wenders with a baseball bat, and to this day still blames Wenders for the snub.
Lee alleges that Wenders derided Mookie (played by Lee himself), the lead character in the Brooklyn-based comic drama, as “unheroic.” Wenders says that the decision was not his alone, and that it was simply the will of the jury in a very competitive year. (Indeed, both movies are considered classics of American cinema, and they were also up against Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, and Jane Campion’s Sweetie.) In the 63-year history of the award, the Palme d’Or has never been given to a film with a black director.
Now, Lee has brought his latest film, BlacKkKlansman, to Cannes—and it’s looking like a good bet to finally land the revolutionary filmmaker the festival’s top prize. The film got a 10-minute standing ovation (Cannes is notorious for its overlong, self-indulgent standing ovations, but 10 minutes is still impressive), earned rave reactions from critics in attendance, and has become an early Oscars frontunner.
Based on the book Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, Lee’s film tells the true story of a black police detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Stallworth (John David Washington) spoke to members over the phone, while a white officer (Adam Driver) pretended to be him when meeting with them in person. Together, they eventually became the leader of the chapter.
The film looks to be part heist, part black comedy, and part biting social commentary, as only Lee knows how to do:
Topher Grace plays the white supremacist David Duke, then the Grand Wizard of the KKK. BlacKkKlansman, which comes out on Aug. 10—the one-year anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville riots—includes an epilogue with real footage of the riots and US president Donald Trump’s now-infamous speech claiming that there were “very fine people” on both sides.
In a profanity-filled press conference at Cannes yesterday (May 14), Lee lambasted Trump for failing to denounce the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who participated in the riots:
The Palme d’Or will be awarded at the end of the festival (May 19). The Cannes jury can be unpredictable, but BlacKkKlansman boasts the unique combination of political timeliness and a righteous comeback narrative. Also to be screened at the festival (though not in competition): Wenders’ latest movie, a documentary called Pope Francis: A Man of His Word.