Women, black women especially, have often been left to sweep up the things that everyone else in society leaves behind. The same can be said for Lisa, (portrayed by an astounding Regina Hall) in Andrew Bujalski’s brutally honest but warm dramedy Support the Girls. Lisa is the general manager of a Hooters-like sports bar, crudely named Double Whammies, in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. She spends her days keeping the local joint running smoothly and mothering the slew of scantily clad 20-something waitresses who report to her. Going well above and beyond her job description, Lisa manages all of the drama and angst that come with being a young woman trying to scrape together a life for yourself while wearing a cleavage-bearing belly shirt and cut-off booty shorts.
Spike Lee uses real-life detective Ron Stallworth’s story as a cracked mirror to examine Trump’s America in 2018.
The following is part of a monthly conversation series between The Hollywood Reporter contributors Simon Abrams and Steven Boone. This month, they tackled BlacKkKlansman, director Spike Lee’s fictionalized account of African-American undercover cop Ron Stallworth’s investigation of the Ku Klux Klan. In the film, Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrates the Klan with the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Caucasian Jewish-American police officer, and Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), a student activist that Stallworth meets while attending a Stokely Carmichael/Kwame Ture lecture. There are spoilers ahead.
Simon Abrams, Getting Off the Bus: BlacKkKlansman has been praised as one of co-writer/director Spike Lee’s best films. It received the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and has been hailed by friends and colleagues as his best in years. Our friend Odie Henderson, over at RogerEbert.com, gave the film four stars and said that it is “not only one of the year’s best films but one of Lee’s best as well.” Rembert Browne, writing for Time Magazine, echoes that sentiment by saying that BlacKkKlansman is “Lee’s most critically heralded and accessible effort in over a decade.” Search your review aggregator of choice — Twitter, for me — and you’ll soon see that some variation of this sentiments is fairly popular.
BlacKkKlansman feels like, among other things, Lee’s way of rejecting institutionally revered, but fundamentally (and apparently) racist American movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind. He pointedly opens his film with footage from the latter movie, and quotes the former pic soon in two key scenes, one of which is a comically delivered but deadly serious address from Alec Baldwin as a sock puppet white supremacist named Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. Documentary footage washes over Baldwin’s face as he speaks and erases his skin color; he is, in other words, white enough to become part of the screen. It’s a visually powerful shot across the bow, one that speaks to Lee’s skill as both a social commentator and an image-maker.
That said, I have mixed feelings about the film, as you and I discussed once our screening ended. My reservations mostly have to do with Lee and his co-writers’ fuzzy articulation of a theme that Henderson eloquently gave voice to in his review, namely how Adam Driver’s character Flip Zimmerman suggests (in one scene, through a Sam Fuller-worthy bit of declamatory dialogue) that like Ron Stallworth, he — a secular Jewish-American — must also pass among WASPy Caucasians. In that sense, my hesitations about Zimmerman have a lot to do with how I see BlacKkKlansman as the work of both Spike Lee the showman and Spike Lee the social commentator (I’d say “provocateur,” but that’s a loaded term, especially when applied to a black filmmaker). So, to start: How well does this film work as a fictional representation of history that’s a political statement, a feel-good entertainment and an effective piece of agitprop?
The Buzz: At first glimpse I dismissed this film as a Lifetime version of The Bodyguard. But after watching the emotional first trailer I was pleasantly surprised to discover the film was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. I was a big fan of both Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees, and so I’m looking forward to seeing her latest film after a six-year break. I’m confident Gina’s strong storytelling will take this familiar concept to a new level. The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be.
A little over a decade ago, VH1 premiered one of its many mediocre television biopics, Hendrix. Playing well against type, Wood Harris starred as the iconic guitarist, alongside Vivica A. Fox (as girlfriend/groupie Faye Pridgeon), and Billy Zane. A general overview of Hendrix’s life, the film chronicled his time playing with black artists like Little Richard, his period as a recording artist in London, his breakthrough performance at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and his untimely death at the age of 27. It had all the hallmarks of most rock ‘n roll biopics: the tough childhood, the discovery of genius, the hit single, the hard partying, the groupies, the hangers-on, the drug problems, the fall from grace. But it was missing something, one major element. The music. Getting music rights has been an uphill battle in many a musical biopic, and last year, with the announcement that a new Hendrix movie called All is By My Side was set to begin production, getting rights to the rocker’s extensive discography once again became an obstacle for filmmakers. Hendrix’s estate withdrew all support for the movie, and barred writer-director John Ridley (who paradoxically also wrote 12 Years a Slave and Undercover Brother) from using seminal Hendrix songs like ‘Purple Haze’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and the ‘Hey Joe’ cover in the movie. Ridley, determined to tell his version of the Hendrix story, sidestepped this slight inconvenience by crafting a story set specifically before the debut of Are You Experienced. Andre Benjamin plays Hendrix, discovered by Keith Richards’ girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) while playing backup guitar at New York’s Cheetah Club. The two strike up a romantically-tinged friendship, as Linda works tirelessly at helping him find a manger and get a record deal. Eventually, under the management of former Animals member Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), Hendrix moves to London, shacks up with feisty party girl Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), and begins his journey towards starting The Jimi Hendrix Experience and becoming one of if not the greatest guitar players of all time. Continue Reading