Spike Lee's Cinematic Alchemy of Past and Present is a Warning About the Future

Spike Lee's Cinematic Alchemy of Past and Present is a Warning About the Future

August 8, 20181 min read

Nearly a year to the day after White Nationalists marched in Charlottesville, the film “BlacKkKlansman” is released.

Spike Lee's film is both a representation of a real-life story of an African-American detective who infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and as an ideological vehicle for critique of our current social and political moment, says Matthew Hughey, associated professor of sociology at UConn.

Together, “BlacKkKlansman” conveys a multi-part message.

First, it is cinematic alchemy of the past and present—revealing what has and has not changed over the past half-century in order create a warning about the future. It recalls philosopher George Santayana’s saying “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Second, the film eviscerates both American naiveté and intentional hypocrisy regarding racism and racial inequality. The film shines a bright light on the dark methods people use to dress up racism, nativist xenophobia, and hatred as “pride and patriotism,” and the madness deployed to rationalize police brutality and murder as little more than “law and order.”

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the film deconstructs the “bad apple” theory of racism. Racism does not exist within the hood-wearing, swastika-sporting, epithet-spewing ignoramus alone, but exists in a systemic orchard that segregates and privileges whiteness economically, politically, and socially regardless of individual intention, worldview, or behavior.

In the end, Lee’s film leads us to the conclusion that if “we are all Charlottesville” then “we are all Klansman,” too, says Hughey.


Connect with:
  • Matthew Hughey, Ph.D.
    Matthew Hughey, Ph.D. Professor of Sociology

    A scholar of racism and racial inequality in identity formation, organizations, media, politics, science, religion, and public advocacy.

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