Spike Lee talks about changing the ending of BlacKkKlansman
It’s no coincidence that Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is coming out exactly one year to the weekend after Charlottesville.
The 2017 rallies-turned-riots that pitted white supremacists against those who oppose white supremacists, resulted in the murder of peaceful protestor Heather Heyer, and gave U.S. President Donald Trump the opportunity to declare that there were “very fine people on both sides,” was very much on Lee’s mind as he was finishing up the film. It even compelled him to change the ending.
“That mother----er was given a chance to say we’re about love and not hate,” Lee said of Trump during an expletive-laden press conference at the Cannes Film Festival where BlacKkKlansman earned rave reviews and won the festival’s second-highest award, the Grand Prize. Instead, a furious Lee pointed out, Trump didn’t even denounce the Klan, the alt-right and Neo-Nazis. The director later added, “Please excuse me for some profane words, but the sh-t going on makes you want to curse.”
Watching events unfold from the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard, Lee immediately knew he needed to end BlacKkKlansman with video of that Dodge Challenger speeding down a Charlottesville street and ramming into the crowd of anti-white nationalist protesters that included Heyer. So he called Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, to ask permission.
“I was not going to put that murder scene in the film without her blessing,” Lee said.
He got it.
Although we’re talking about the end of a movie this isn’t really a spoiler since the rest of BlacKkKlansman has nothing to do with Charlottesville, except in theme. Instead it takes place in the early 1970s when a Black rookie cop named Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan by answering a classified ad looking for Klan members and pretending to be a white racist. When it came time to actually meet the Klan he had to enlist a white officer (Adam Driver) to pretend to be Ron Stallworth. It’s a true story.
The footage of the car crashing into Heyer is a sort of epilogue. “Our job as filmmakers, as storytellers, was to connect this period piece to present day,” explained Lee. “What’s happening now did not just pop out of thin air.”
Lee then explained how they got their footage of the crash. “We had to put together what you saw from many, many different angles,” he said. “We put ads in papers and Facebook. People sent us stuff they filmed on their phones.
“We wanted to, to the best of our abilities, show that Heather should be alive now. It was a murderous act, and when we look to our leaders for moral courage, and when they make the wrong choice, and give the thumbs up to the hate groups, they come out of the woodwork.”
When asked how the film was originally going to end Lee said he couldn’t even remember. “That ending was not written,” he said of the Charlottesville footage, “but a Spike Lee Joint is, you gotta flow, you gotta flow. Can’t be rigid, you gotta be with it, you gotta be hip, you gotta be on it. There’s no way in the world I could not, once I got the blessing from Mrs. Bro, I could not make that the end of the film.”
BlacKkKlansman hits theatres August 10th. Click here for tickets and showtimes.