Riley also cited a recent New York Post report that Lee’s advertising agency, Spike DDB, was paid more than $200,000 to work on a New York Police Department campaign to improve relations with minority communities, implying that BlacKkKlansman is part of a broader effort to make police seem like be allies in the fight against racism, instead of the enablers—and enforcers—of it.

When reached through his representatives via email on Tuesday, Lee said only this in response to Riley’s critique: “Spike Lee, NYU Grad Film School tenured professor, has no comment.” Stallworth, however, said this about Riley, in a statement to the website Okayplayer: “I pray for my demented and dissolute brother.”

Riley’s appraisal of the film is both well-researched and heartfelt—he starts by saying how much he respects Lee, and how much the legendary filmmaker’s immense body of work addressing racism has influenced him. Some writers and critics have defended Lee by pointing out that the film is probably not as pro-police as Riley believes it to be, or that simply having one or two goodhearted police characters does not deny the existence of systemic corruption and racism. (Indeed, in the film, Stallworth is obstructed every step of the way by his superiors, and almost the moment he demonstrates tangible evidence his infiltration is working, they call the whole thing off and destroy all his paperwork.)

Lee might argue that BlacKkKlansman plays more like fantasy, a wish fulfillment, a knowingly embellished demonstration of what could be—of what opportunities for progress within American institutions are being missed, destroyed, or forgotten every day.

It’s not necessarily pro-police so much as it’s pro the ideal of police—but even that, perhaps, is too forgiving of an institution that got its start by enforcing slavery and still, in 2018, authorizes and defends the killings of unarmed black men and women—no matter how many “good cops” may toil within its ranks.

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