Oscar Bait

I had such virtuous plans for my weekend: I was gonna clean the house, do more decluttering, do some private journalling, and begin building some reading momentum.

Instead, I spent most of yesterday in an exhausted blue funk. Not sure how much of that was just the build-up from a long week of work—both work work and my new side gig. Some piece of the exhaustion was just that, for damn sure. And the blue unmotivated feeling may have been as simple as my system reacting to a stretch of efforting and saying

I don’t care how virtuous and self-caring your Saturday goals are, we want a goddamn day off!

So mostly what I did with my Saturday was cuddled the dog, caught up on some DVR’ed stuff, and watched a couple of movies.

Including BlackKKlansman.

Now, I’m not nearly as plugged into the Oscar scene as I used to be, but I think you would have to be seriously unplugged from all that to have missed the controversy when Green Book won best picture. Obviously, most of that controversy was prompted by that film’s own flaws, most especially its unquestioning embrace of tired old white savior tropes.

At least that film helped inspire this genius piece starring Seth Meyers and Amber Ruffin:

But the frustration around Green Book‘s win was certainly heightened by the contrast between it and the Spike Lee Joint it was up against—especially since there was an eerie déjà vu feeling to it all. A flashback to Oscars 1990, when Driving Miss Daisy won best picture in a season when Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated for the top prize.

Lee himself alluded to this painful contrast in a post-ceremony interview:

I’m snakebit. Every time someone is driving somebody, I lose.

blackkklansman

So, can I say for certain that I think BlackKKlansman should have won best picture? I don’t know enough about some of the other contenders to say for sure.(1)

What I can say for certain is that BlackKlansman is a film that is on point. Lee does a virtuosic job with his adaptation of Ron Stallworth‘s memoir about being the first African American police officer in Colorado Springs, and his successful effort to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK.

The film is a study on contrasts: Lee frequently uses the technique of cross-cutting to interweave scenes to powerful—sometimes devastating—effect. This most hauntingly occurs when footage of a speaker telling the university’s Black Student Union about the lynching of Jesse Washington is intercut with footage of the local clan chapter watching and cheering during a screening of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation: a film that helped build a resurgence of the Klan and this form of domestic terrorism.

Lee also uses the romantic connection and ideological tensions between Ron and Patrice—the president of the student union I just mentioned—as a way to explore the enduring question of how much we can dismantle oppressive systems from the inside, as Ron hopes to do, as opposed to Audre Lorde’s assertion that “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

The film concludes with a coda showing footage of the white power marches that happened in Charlottesville back in 2017, including footage of Trump’s infamous moral relativism when asked about the riots, and of the car attack that killed Heather Heyer. This makes a powerful, albeit sobering point: however audacious Stallworth’s accomplishment was, however skillful Lee is in bringing the humor out in his telling of the tale, and however much we rooted for a successful end to this investigation, Lee’s coda challenges us to acknowledge the many ways that the legacy of white supremacy so cartoonishly embodied by these Colorado Klansmen remains a potent, violent, poisonous thread within our society more than 40 years later.

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(1) I’m thinking especially of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, here.

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Image credit: Flickr user Wolf Gang, via a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

 

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