Spike Lee blasted President Donald Trump for his remarks following last year's violence in Charlottesville in an expletive-laden, emotional speech at the Cannes Film Festival, where the director was promoting his new, racially charged movie, "BlacKkKlansman."
A white nationalist protest last August — along with a Black Lives Matter counterprotest — turned the sleepy Virginia college town into a boiler of hot emotions that led to violence and three deaths, including that of 32-year-old Heather Heyer. She was protesting the white nationalists when she was fatally struck by a car that drove through a crowd of people.
Following the protest, Trump drew intense criticism for his reaction to the violence, which included him waiting four days to mention Heyer's name and blaming the violence on "both sides," rather than condemning the racist ideology that led to it.
"It's an ugly, ugly, ugly blemish on the United States of America. Heather should be alive now. It's a murderous act," Lee said Tuesday during a news conference for his film. "It was a defining moment and [Trump] could have said to the United States and the world that we're better than that."
"BlacKkKlansman" tells the story of a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. The movie stars John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace as David Duke, the former Louisiana state representative who was once a Ku Klux Klan grand dragon and later, KKK grand wizard, the head of the white supremacist organization. The film was produced by Jordan Peele, whose horror movie "Get Out," an extended allegory about systematic racism against the United States' black population, received the Oscar for best original screenplay this year.
Though "BlacKkKlansman" is set in the late '70s, Lee added a striking coda: Real video footage from the Charlottesville riots that conclude in a tribute to Heyer.
The movie reportedly drew a 10-minute standing ovation after its Monday night premiere and its early reviews seem overwhelmingly positive. Time magazine called it "the movie we need right now."
"Lee's point is clear: If hate groups were dangerous and insidious in the 1970s, they're much more so now, especially considering the momentum they've gained during the Trump administration. (And don't think Lee fails to take a few well-aimed shots at that.)," the review said.
When asked about the coda, Lee gave his impassioned monologue, much of which cannot be printed in a family newspaper.
He spoke of calling Susan Bro, Heyer's mother, to ask permission to use footage of the young woman's death in the movie, "because that was murder." He talked about racism, saying, "It's all over the world. And we have to wake up. We can't be silent. It's not black, white or brown. It's everybody." He also expressed fear that Trump has the ability to launch a nuclear attack.
"So this film, to me, is a wake-up call because . . . stuff is happening, and it's topsy-turvy and the fake has been trumpeted as the truth," he concluded. "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."
Lee has tackled racism and traced the African American experience throughout his career, beginning in the late 1980s with films like "School Daze" and "Do The Right Thing," which President Barack Obama has cited as one of his favorite movies.