Last week’s blog post was about how I don’t go see new movies in the theater often. I broke the streak over the weekend when I went to see Spike Lee’s latest joint BlacKkKlansman. Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth and starring John David Washington (as Stallworth) and Adam Driver, the movie is about Stallworth’s real-life experience of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1972. Stallworth disguised his voice to get information on members and chapter meetings while his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), became the public face. As Zimmerman and Stallworth get deeper into the operation, suspicions flare up regarding their interest in the organization and they must maintain their anonymity while also ensuring the safety of a local Black Students Union organization. With the upcoming arrival of David Duke, president of the KKK, Stallworth and Zimmerman must stop a perfect storm of racially-motivated violence.
It was an enjoyable movie with plenty of humor. Lee hasn’t directed a brilliant film for a long time, but he doesn’t have to. His body of work speaks for itself so, it is fine if his recent films are not brilliant but serve to be entertaining and thought-provoking. And BlacKkKlansman accomplished that well.
I wasn’t aware of Stallworth’s story prior to seeing the film, but I was impressed by what he did. However, I was more impressed with how Lee drew parallels between the events in the film and things today. Little tongue-in-cheek comments were made throughout the film that served to be biting satire of the Trump administration and the rise of white supremacist violence in this country. While the story of BlacKkKlansman was solid on its own, drawing connections that related to modern audiences certainly amplified the overall message of the film.
However, Lee isn’t known for his subtlety. He is a very outspoken, and often abrasive, individual who says what he believes him. He often generates a lot of controversy with his comments, but he is a voice representing a viewpoint that is oppressed and underrepresented.
Somehow, I forgot how brash and direct Lee could be when I was watching BlacKkKlansman. SO, I was absolutely stunned and surprised to see Lee did before the credits rolled. Just in case you didn’t catch the jabs and remarks about white supremacists that could easily apply to Trump and his supporters, Lee beat the message over the audience’s heads by using footage from the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.
When the violence erupted in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017, it was a real wake-up call for me. I had known that Trump was garbage and the Alt-Right were misguided, racist, and just plain awful. However, I was naïve regarding the extent of their cowardice. I watched the footage of them chanting “Fuck you, faggots” and “Jews will not replace us.” I watched the street fights and barricades being pushed and bottles being thrown. I watched the police fail to maintain law and order. This was proving to be a significant moment in our country’s history. However, I wasn’t prepared for the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville.
Heather Heyer was an activist who marched with the counterprotestors in Charlottesville. She was murdered by a Unite the Right participant when he accelerated his car into a crowd of counterprotestors.
When Heyer was murdered, a piece of innocence was lost that day. I had never met or communicated with this person, but I went into a deep seething rage when she died. Something became lost, but it awoken something darker in me. For about a month, I was obsessed with learning about Nazis and the Alt-Right on Twitter. I wanted to learn their dog whistles, how they communicate, and, most importantly, their identity. I engaged and argued with them. I called them cowards for hiding behind cartoon avatars. I wasn’t afraid of them, but they tried hard to put fear in me. They sent nasty messages to me, made memes of me where I was the subject of violence, threatened to run me over with a car like Heyer, and other threats that you cannot take seriously because they come from the Internet. I was never afraid of them. I never hid my face or my name.
For a month, I argued and did whatever I could to dox and expose them. It was such a rush. However, I had to stop. Friends and family tag me in posts. I realized that these online trolls would see that and then, in an effort to make me afraid, make memes or comments about my loved ones. I couldn’t subject them to that abuse at the hands of my Twitter crusade. So, I stopped. I went dark for a while so the trolls thought I was gone for good. After a decent amount of time, I came back quietly. I still research and follow the same trolls, but I don’t engage with them anymore.
I guess that was my process for grieving and avenging Heyer. She became a symbol of the good people can achieve when they face fascism and the unfortunate consequence that can occur. I was in Montgomery, Alabama last month and I toured the Civil Rights Memorial Center. It is a museum dedicated to the victims of racially motivated violence. The center profiled a few dozen people from notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers to the lesser know victims of white supremacist violence.
In the center, they had a wing dedicated to the victims of violence in the modern age. There was a plaque dedicated to the church members shot and killed by Dylann Roof. There was a memorial to a transgender woman (I’m sorry I forgot the name) who was murdered somewhere in the middle. And there was a tribute to Heather Heyer. Unlike the other two examples, Heyer was murdered less than a year ago. I amazed that she earned a spot of distinction in such an important place so quickly.
As I watched the Charlottesville footage playing at the end of BlacKkKlansman, the screen then showed a picture of Heyer with a tribute. I was surprised to see her image and I started applauding. I applauded because she was, in my opinion, a real hero. Even though I was in a crowded theater, everyone was silent. I was the only person applauding. Initially, I was angry at the silence. However, I have come to realize that maybe they forgot about Heyer or that they were in shock. I hope they didn’t forget her. I certainly never did.
I was then struck by the realization that I saw the movie on the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally; the rally with the iconic torches. In the course of one year, I’m already seeing this stuff in movies. In less than a year (one day before the date of her death), I’m seeing Heyer in tribute during a widely-released film. I was blown away. Charlottesville seemed so far away, but it was only a year. In less than a year, that brave woman has being honored in ways that were befitting of her dedication and activism.
Unite the Right 2 was held in Washington, D.C. over the week to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville. It was thankfully a disaster for the Alt-Right. Very few of them showed up and they were drowned out by the droves of counterprotestors that came to denounce their message of hate. It was a success for those who stand against racism and bigotry.
While I am proud of what happened in Washington over the weekend, I have trouble believing that the tides are turning. Recently, violent protests have been occurring in Portland, Oregon where representatives from group like the Proud Boys are violently clashing with Antifa and other left-identifying people. I feel the violence there has been severely underreported. There haven’t been deaths yet, but it could be likely. I feel people were expecting the rally in Washington to mirror what happened in Charlottesville. Unfortunately, that did not happen. However, I think we are close to another Charlottesville and I think it will be in Portland. Though, I hope I’m wrong and that the violence will cease.
When the tragedy in Charlottesville occurred, I saw a bunch of memes and messages on social media denouncing racism. Most notably, I kept seeing reference to “Nazi Punks Fucks Off.” Released as their fifth single in 1981, the Dead Kennedys made a fitting soundtrack to serve as a symbol for anti-racist sentiments. It is song full of fire and anger. Sure, now, it might be a played out and overused. However, the message still rings true. Nazi punks will never step Spike Lee. Nazi punks will never stop Ron Stallworth. Nazi punks will never stop Heather Heyer.