More than a week after director and musician Boots Riley delivered a pointed and detailed critique of BlacKkKlansman and its portrayal of police officers, filmmaker Spike Lee has a response.
Riley shared the three-page criticism on Twitter (warning: it does contain spoilers) on Aug. 17, citing Lee as a “huge influence” on his own filmmaking but arguing that Lee’s latest film, inspired by Ron Stallworth, a black cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, leaned into “untrue elements that make a cop a hero against racism.”
“It’s a made-up story in which the false parts of it to try to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racist oppression,” he wrote. “It’s being put while Black Lives Matter is a discussion, and this is not coincidental. There is a viewpoint behind it.”
Riley also called out Lee for his work consulting on an NYPD ad campaign allegedly aimed at “improving relations with minority communities”—a job for which he was paid more than $200,000.
“Whether it actually is or not, BlacKkKlansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign,” the Sorry to Bother You director wrote.
While Lee didn’t refer to Riley by name, or reference the specific critique, in a recent interview with The Times, Lee defended his body of work, particularly when it comes to police portrayals.
“Look at my films: they’ve been very critical of the police, but on the other hand I’m never going to say all police are corrupt, that all police hate people of colour. I’m not going to say that,” Lee told the U.K. paper.
“I mean, we need police. Unfortunately, police in a lot of instances have not upheld the law; they have broken the law,” Lee continued. “But I’d also like to say, sir, that black people are not a monolithic group. I have had black people say, ‘How can a bourgeois person like Spike Lee do Malcolm X?’
While many critics and moviegoers have given rave reviews to BlacKkKlansman, other have expressed concern over elements of the film, including the way one montage toward the end of the film appeared to center white people in the civil rights movement.
When The Root’s Danielle Young asked Lee about one such scene that gave her pause, Lee responded:
“If you look the civil rights movement, white people died in Mississippi, Alabama, Kent State during the Vietnam protests. White people have died for justice. So it was not a matter of saying, ‘I can’t put Heather Heyer at the end of the film because she’s not black.”
Citing Adam Driver’s character in BlacKkKlansman as another example, Lee continued, “It’s not a black and white thing for me. Heather Heyer was on the side of truth, of justice.”