Spike Lee Responds to Boots Riley's 'BlacKkKlansman' Criticism

Riley slammed the prolific director for his portrayal of police in the 1970s-set film about an African-American cop who infiltrates a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley took to social media last week to sound off on Spike Lee's latest film, BlacKkKlansman. In his three-page essay, Riley criticized Lee's portrayal of police in the 1970s-set film, based on a true story about an African-American cop who infiltrates a Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

"[T]o the extent that people of color deal with actual physical attacks and terrorizing due to racism and racist doctrines — we deal with it mostly from the police on a day to day basis. And not just from White cops. From Black cops too," Riley wrote. "So for Spike to come out with a movie where a story points are fabricated in order [to] make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing, to put it very mildly."

Though Riley said "Spike Lee has been a huge influence on me" and Lee is the "reason I went to film school," the filmmaker told his followers, "I'm not gonna hold my tongue."

Asked to share his thoughts on Riley's post during a recent interview with the U.K.'s Times, Lee said he's "done" engaging in public feuds with other notable names in Hollywood. "I'm a young chap, a young man aged 61, but before I was even a younger chap," he said. "Now when I get a hint that this stuff is maybe going to dilute the message of my film, I know it is not going to do me any good to comment."

Pressed further on Riley's assertion that Lee's onscreen representation of the police force in the '70s is inaccurate, Lee said, "Well, I’m not going to comment on that."

He then continued: "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 color. I’m not going to say that. I mean, we need police."

In the film, John David Washington plays Ron Stallworth, the officer who helped expose the KKK's plan to attack people of color in 1979. Adam Driver plays his friend and colleague, Flip Zimmerman, a white policeman who assisted Ron in his undercover mission and became good friends with him in the process.

At BlackKkKlansman's New York premiere last month, the real-life Ron Stallworth told The Hollywood Reporter about Lee's intent for the film to show that the racism exhibited in America 40 years ago is unfortunately still alive. And, according to the former cop, that kind of behavior has been amplified under President Donald Trump's divisive administration.

"The racism today is just like it was then. If anything, it's even worse because Trump has basically allowed racists to come out of the shadows. We need to be vigilant to that and try to address it from a perspective like Spike's," Stallworth told THR. "Trump is an idiot, and his idiocy needs to be brought to the forefront. Spike did a masterful job at capturing that."