By Farayi Mungoshi
BACK in the 1990s, I was introduced to Spike Lee’s movies, beginning with the much reputed School Daze featuring Lawrence Fishburne of the Matrix fame.
The film, shot in 1988, had already been out for a number of years but by the time I watched it, John Singleton had also released Boyz in the Hood featuring Cuba Gooding Jr, Ice Cube and Lawrence Fishburne, among others.
I must admit I didn’t care much for his (Spike Lee) movies, I always thought the man always overdid his movies and was overrated.
Because I immediately fell in love with Boyz in the Hood, I preferred to see myself more as a John Singleton fan than Spike Lee.
Even after watching She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever and Do the Right Thing, I still did not like Spike Lee’s movies.
I didn’t understand them, neither did I really understand the injustices faced by African-Americans in the US and their quest to be recognised as human beings with just the same feelings and emotions coursing through their veins as their white counterparts.
At that time, Zimbabwe was very much still enjoying a somewhat stable economy and we were, ironically, somehow still cocooned and blurred from the reality that once we, the black people of this nation, try to own what we already thought we owned (land), white supremacists would unleash hell on earth for us by ‘making our economy scream’ until we tow the line.
Ever since the economic war was brought to our home front, I have had time to reflect, to ponder and question why the blackman has always had to struggle for recognition and acceptance in this world. Why is he hated so much by everyone else?
Why is he always being pushed further down the food chain?
Looking back, I see now that in the 35 years or so of his film-making career, Spike Lee has been fighting this injustice.
A somewhat sympathiser of the Jewish curse, considering the holocaust and attempt by other nationalities to wipe the Jew off the face of the earth, it is not hard to see how Lee likens their plight to that of the blackman in Inside Man starring Denzel Washington.
Would the world be a better place without the Jew or without the blackman?
In his latest offering BlacKkKlansman which finally landed him an Oscar after 35 years in the film-making business, Lee brings to the big screen a true story about one African-American detective and hero (John David Washington featuring as Ron Stallworth) who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan posing as a whiteman. Stallworth was the first African-American police officer at the Colorado Springs Police Department in America.
When he goes for the job, his superior is not apologetic of the hardships and name-calling the African-American might have to endure, even from fellow workmates, and warns Stallworth of what is to come. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth does not flinch and takes up the job.
He is set up as an undercover cop to try and take down an African-American speaker and activist who went by the name Kwame Ture but ends up falling in love with the president of college activists group who went by the name Patrice.
However, this sets up the premise for the story which would make Stallworth an American hero.
While sitting at the police station and flipping through a newspaper one day, Stallworth finds the phone number for the local Ku Klux Klan advertised in the paper.
The hate group Klan had been trying to sanitise its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream with its grandmaster wizard David Duke vying for a post in government.
Stallworth poses as a white man over the phone and soon David Duke takes a liking to him.
Stallworth says all sorts of unimaginable things against the black race in a bid to win Duke’s trust and does such a sterling job the Klan welcomes him, but the problem is Stallworth is black.
If you know the Ku Klux Klan, then you would know that one thing that fuels it is hate; they hate blacks as well as Jews and there is no way Stallworth is going to infiltrate the hate group without help from his fellow white companions from the police department.
He recruits Flip Zimmerman to act as him for a face-to-face with the Ku Klux Klan.
Unknown to him (Stallworth) at that time, Zimmerman was actually a Jew and by accepting to play this role, he would be putting himself directly into the firing line, risking his life.
Zimmerman and Stallworth’s selfless acts position them in the right place to learn about an oncoming attack by the Klan on the African-American activist Patrice for preaching against racism and arming the black students with knowledge for self love and black power by inviting a known Black Panther in Ture to talk to African-American students.
Stallworth and his team manage to foil the Klan’s mission and save Patrice’s life from a bomb attack by the Klan.
With lots of comedy deflecting it from the more serious matter addressed in the film, BlacKkKlansman is more of dark comedy.
It addresses issues to deal with present day racism under the Trump administration which would lead Lee to declare, in an interview, that nothing has changed in America.
In other words, the hate speeches they experienced in the 1960/70s are still rife today.
Trump could as well be the Klan’s grandmaster wizard with his ‘Make America great again’ statement which has been deciphered to mean an all-white nation or white America by some as his rants against blacks, Mexicans and other races continue.
The Oscar Award for best adapted script gives Spike Lee the kind of platform and mileage he needs to continue preaching against racism with a wider audience listening to him than he’s had in his entire life.
Lee has managed to achieve what we always speak about in most of my articles, which is to use film as a tool to appeal to the world, to educate and inform.
In most, if not all, his films, Lee always takes time to preach, through his characters, the social injustices faced by blacks in America and it is clear now that this battle is most likely to continue through our lifetime and beyond, but for as long as we have people like Lee bringing to light that ‘Black is indeed beautiful’ and there is hope.
We, as Zimbabweans, should take a leaf out of Lee’s book and strive to set the record straight in winning back our sovereignty and fighting the injustices the African continent is facing from so-called Western super powers.