Not only is Hollywood remaking and retelling the same fictional stories, but stories based in fact are also being retold because we keep repeating history. Exactly nothing has changed since Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was released in 1989 except, maybe, racial tensions becoming more tense. Black Americans are still being killed by racist cops and white supremacy groups are growing in numbers, getting mainstream support from the President of the United States and are killing way more Americans than Islamic Extremists. The Klan is back with a vengeance, and BlacKkKlansman isn't shy about sharing that fact.
BlacKkKlansman tells the true story of a black police officer in Colorado, new to the department and first of his kind, going “undercover” as a Ku Klux Klan supporter to investigate the “organization.” After cold-calling the Ku Klux Klan utilizing “white voice” not unlike black comedians Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy and Dave Chappelle, Ron Stallworth boasts to his precinct chief that he can speak both “the King’s English” and jive in order to infiltrate the local chapter of the Klan and determine the organization’s intentions and dangerousness while also getting an inside look at the college’s Black Student Union, who invited a Black Panther to speak in town.
The year is 1979 in Lee’s rendition of this true story, but the actual events occurred in 1972. Changing the date allowed Lee to reference then trendy blaxploitation movies and the KKK’s supposed support of President Richard Nixon’s re-election. It might look like 1979 on screen, but if you read just the script’s dialogue, you’d wonder whether it was 1979, 1989 or 2019.
Lee makes multiple references to current events throughout the film, making a comment on our time more so than a comment on the times in which it’s set. Stallworth is accused of naivety by a fellow officer when he says, “People would never elect a man like David Duke President.” Yet people elected Donald Trump, who called some white supremacists at Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally “good people.” Good people, however, don’t discriminate as to whom they are good.
Duke, satisfyingly portrayed by Topher Grace, has a gullibility and all-around lack of awareness about him that somehow makes him not only tolerable but hilariously cartoonish. Duke was obviously concerned with how the film portrayed him, afraid that he’d come off as stupid. Lee didn’t care even though Duke told the real-life Stallworth that he “always respected Spike Lee.”
Duke also delivers a line drawing from current events in one of his many phone conversations with Stallworth, saying he wants “America to achieve its greatness again,” another obvious reference to the President's popular, campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” I suspect Duke and Trump share the same idea as to what constitutes this country’s greatest greatness, and if it’s not pre-Civil War, it’s at least a time when white people didn’t have to share anything with black people except the air they breathe.
Do the Right Thing, like BlacKkKlansman, was inspired by actual events. Black kids were indeed chased out of a pizzeria in New York City. Whether the boycott of said pizzeria actually occurred and resulted in a riot destroying the pizzeria is unknown. What is known and is made abundantly clear in BlacKkKlansman, is that the hostility and contempt underlying race relations in America have persisted if not worsened since 1989 despite BlacKkKlansman taking place 10 years prior. BlacKkKlansman transcends time in that sense, but it doesn’t attempt to transcend race despite an obvious opportunity to do so.
Stallworth is portrayed by John David Washington, who does the character justice by conveying both the gumshoe’s greenness and opportunistic, entrepreneurial spirit despite an obvious internal struggle between the black cop walking the beat and the black man longing for and working toward justice for his black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets by racist cops.
Stallworth doesn’t let anything stop him from pursuing his passion project. He is not the easily distracted Mookie of Do the Right Thing. Stallworth is as motivated as they come, and to him, the fact he’s black doesn’t mean he can’t infiltrate the local KKK chapter. There are more than enough white officers to serve as his stand-in, but it would take the right kind of white officer to infiltrate the Klan. Sure, the Colorado Springs Police Department, like most American police departments at the time, had more than its fair share of racist cops. But a racist cop could still give himself away as a cop despite the depth of his racism.
Enter Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish detective who wasn’t raised Jewish. Zimmerman is aptly portrayed by Adam Driver, who is almost too cool when accused of being a Jew at gunpoint by a member of the local KKK chapter. The Klansman is so concerned over Zimmerman’s bloodlines that he demands he take a lie detector test, but Zimmerman’s partner comes to the rescue just in time. Or does he? Zimmerman later alludes to the fact that he’s never really given his Jewish heritage much thought until now, but that doesn’t mean he could pass a “Jew detector” test at gunpoint, even if he wasn’t raised Jewish.
Despite the engaging performances of Washington and Driver, Lee misses an opportunity to make BlacKkKlansman a little more enjoyable and, dare I say, feel-good, by focusing on growing relationships between characters at the expense of others, and that’s likely by design. Lee doesn’t make many feel-good films, but Do the Right Thing certainly does a better job developing the relationship between Mookie and Sal than BlacKkKlansman does for Ron and Flip. Washington and Driver give fine individual performances, but their time on screen together isn’t ample or dramatic enough for their characters’ relationship to grow throughout the film like Mookie and Sal’s relationship does in Do the Right Thing.
Besides length, there’s really no reason not to give Ron and Flip a few moments to convey the growth of their work relationship. Any good film requires a hero to overcome conflict and grow as a person. The same goes for the relationships between characters. They too need to grow and motivate the action and change of the characters, and the relationship between Ron and Flip leaves much to be desired.
Not once do I remember Flip irate despite the danger Ron’s created for him. He’s the one risking everything while the “Black Klansman” sits safely at the other end of a telephone making friends with the grand wizard of the KKK. In fact, the film should have been called BlacKkKlansmen, because Flip is one half of the Black Klansman and has more at risk than Ron.
At first, Stallworth is completely careless when it comes to his new partner’s life, and there’s never really a moment where Stallworth shares a realization of and appreciation for the white man taking all the risk while the black man remains safe on the other end of a telephone. Just because Zimmerman’s white doesn’t mean the Klan won’t kill him. This missed opportunity for Lee to display the dynamics influencing the relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman is one that could have contributed to the film’s drama and the characters’ respective growths throughout the film.
But Driver seemed emotionally unavailable and barely vulnerable throughout the film, whether he was undercover or not. He had his guard up at all times, and that could be his interpretation of the character, as an undercover detective should probably have his guard up at all times. Or his lack of emotional range could be due to a lack of chemistry with Washington, which would explain Lee's limiting their relationship's screen time. Washington doesn't give Driver much to work with in Flip's most vulnerable moment, but if the scene in question is not ad-libbed, the script doesn't give Driver much to work off of either.
Driver might be a victim of pigeon-holing on a Napoleon Dynamite scale, where regardless of Driver's role in a film, he will always be Kylo Ren to some people, which isn't fair to him, but a role like that is sometimes inescapable and can be detrimental to any other performance at no fault to Driver except for being iconic. Driver's demeanor as Flip was almost as if he was inwardly lamenting his performance knowing audiences would disconnect themselves from the viewing experience at the shock of seeing a Star Wars character in a Spike Lee Joint.
For whatever reason, and I'm leaning toward creative choice, Lee focuses our attention on the relationship between Stallworth and his love interest, Patrice Dumas, a militant, student leader he meets on his first day working undercover. Her disdain for “pigs” only grows that evening when she’s harassed by one of Stallworth’s peers while he waits for her to meet him at a bar. Stallworth doesn’t let his secret profession stop him from making a rookie mistake and getting personal.
Lee’s focus on the fragile relationship between Stallworth and Dumas instead of the underdeveloped relationship between Stallworth and Zimmerman robs viewers of a relationship that could have provided them a reason for hope, which is something Lee’s films tend to struggle conveying due to subject matter and history. Black Americans’ relationships with police, or lack thereof, have been and continue to be shaped by a very warranted lack of trust. Police have been and continue to be employed to further hinder black Americans, who in 2018 still feel the financial and social effects of slavery. That doesn’t scream hope, but neither do Spike Lee Joints. Spike Lee Joints mirror reality more so than most filmmakers in history.
Lee’s choice to focus on the relationship between black man and black woman and the struggles they experience despite sharing a skin color instead of focusing on the black man and white man and the struggles they experience working together in spite of their differing skin color might indicate that Lee believes black Americans still need to unify before all Americans unify. In Do the Right Thing, Mookie and Sal’s relationship isn’t cheated like Ron and Flip’s, but Mookie still pitches for his home team regardless of who’s signing his checks.
Mookie’s boss isn’t responsible for the death of Radio Raheem, but Sal’s already short and shrinking temper in the summer and pizza oven heat, and his growing defensiveness and displeasure with race-related questions posed as if he’s on trial for being racist because of the pictures of Italian-Americans he hangs in the pizzeria, escalate the incident to violence before white cops ever get their murdering hands on Raheem.
An argument over music and its volume in Do the Right Thing and the resulting response by police sounds eerily similar to recent smartphone videos taken of police brutalizing a minority amongst a crowd of minorities pleading for the police to stop. Again, not much has changed in 30 years except the number and quality of video cameras and camera operators and an increased means to share videos. The police beatings of minorities are just in high-definition and available to view from multiple angles almost immediately upon the completion of "principle photography." Lee's shot-for-shot videography of the riot in Do the Right Thing could probably be reproduced using smartphones, invoking an even more emotional response given the lifelike intimacy provided by the participants' cameras.
The riot really begins when Mookie throws a trash can through the window of his employer’s storefront near the end of Do the Right Thing. But he does it because it’s the right thing to do—not because he's taking the side of his people over that of his provider—but because he gives his people and his provider exactly what they need: closure.
Mookie dispersing the crowd with a sentimental soliloquy apologizing for his employer and fellow employees works better on stage than on screen and wouldn’t likely work at all in reality. Would heartfelt words of a pizza delivery boy be enough to soothe you and disperse a riot after your community lost a friend, brother, son and neighbor because the pizza delivery boy’s employer couldn’t stand his “jungle” music? I thought not.
Mookie gave his community exactly what it needed to get over its collective grief in a healthy manner. While looting and destruction of property are crimes, both are a lot healthier than murder or assault of those perceived to be responsible for the tragic death of Radio Raheem. Mookie might have actually saved Sal’s life, but that, like the reasoning behind Mookie’s throwing of the trash can, is not immediately evident to viewers given the emotion-evoking destruction of the pizzeria.
Like BlacKkKlansman, there was an obvious need for the end of Do the Right Thing to offer viewers a semblance of hope. Mookie coming back to Sal’s destroyed pizzeria the next day to collect his $250 salary and the two of them negotiating a settlement isn’t hope enough apparently. So Lee drops lines from both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. to reinforce the dangerousness of duality—the idea that contrasting concepts cannot both be correct simultaneously. But two different concepts can be true at the same time. Nonviolence is a good approach until someone attacks you, which is the message Lee sent at the end of Do the Right Thing.
Lee has often echoed the words of Malcolm X and King, Jr. in his work, and BlacKkKlansman is no exception. Stallworth represents the teachings of King, Jr., and Dumas practices the teachings of X, putting them at odds as to which path is most likely to award “all the power to all the people.” In the end, of course, they realize the same things viewers of Do the Right Thing did: two contrasting concepts can be true at the same time, and if there’s to be hope for black Americans to ever overcome the persisting socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery, it’s going to require both nonviolent and violent acts by a unified, black people.
The black community's dismissal of the Asian grocer across the street from Sal's pleading with them that he too is "black" like them so the rioters don't loot and destroy his shop is a great example of the message Lee sends in both Do the Right Thing and BlacKkKlansman. Black Americans can't climb out of the socioeconomic disadvantage resulting from slavery as a group inside another larger group of minorities. No other American minority started with the disadvantage black Americans did, so Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc. can't relate and, therefore, can't help black Americans overcome their socioeconomic disadvantage. And judging from Lee's apparent choices in BlacKkKlansman, Lee doesn't think white Americans can help either. It's something that has to be done solely by black Americans solely for black Americans.
So almost 30 years after people first saw a race riot explode on the big screen in a Spike Lee Joint, another Spike Lee Joint now shows people exactly how little has changed when it comes to race relations in America. If there’s one obvious changes between Lee’s films spanning almost 30 years, it’s that Do the Right Thing has a more hopeful ending than BlacKkKlansman, which tells me Spike thinks the future is more bleak for black Americans than it was in 1989. If you're looking for a hopeful, uplifting movie this week, see the relatively inconsequential Crazy Rich Asians. I haven't seen it, but I can tell you it will be an almost complete disconnect from reality that won't require your brain to enjoy. Romantic comedies are, by design, an escape.
Spike Lee Joints, however, mirror reality and are meant to make you uncomfortable with their unrivaled realness and borderline neorealism, making you aware of things previously foreign and challenging your beliefs of what you thought it was like to be black in America, because if you're not black, you only know what you see, hear and read. And no one provides as accurate and unabridged imagery of black lives in America as Spike Lee. If you're looking for a thought-provoking, uncomfortable, cultural commentary of American race relations then and now, this Spike Lee Joint is educational and entertaining enough to be worth the price of admission.
All rise, and welcome to this sports court of public opinion we call Foul Play-by-Play -- the podcast that provides play-by-play and color commentary on foul play in sports on and off the field, pitch, court, and ice.
Since the Miami Dolphins are one of the first NFL teams to report to training camp, they were the first to put police brutality protest penalties in writing, as required by the league. I’m calling them police brutality protests instead of anthem protests because that’s what they are: the players are protesting police brutality against minorities, not the national anthem. Yet the media was quick to dub the protests as anthem protests, which has stuck.
If you search Google using the terms “anthem protest” you get 13.6 million hits. Using the search terms “anthem protests” you get almost 1.5 million hits. If you search “police brutality protests” you get just 187,000 hits, so simply assigning a name to these protests
The Dolphins stuffed the police brutality protests in with other acts of conduct deemed “detrimental to the club” punishable by up to four-game suspensions, but they reportedly have no intent of suspending players four games for protesting the national anthem. Co-owner of the New York Giants, Steve Tisch, has since announced that their players will not be subject to penalties for protesting police brutality during the national anthem.
The public backlash to the Dolphins’ announcement has forced the NFL to put a freeze on its national anthem protest policy, and the NFL Players’ Association and the NFL are finally working out an agreement to end the anthem feud, as should have been the case in the first place given the collective bargaining agreement.
Since the Dolphins’ announcement and resulting public backlash, Donald Trump has tweeted his displeasure with the anthem dispute, tweeting, “Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart? The $40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!”
To answer your question Donald, players’ contracts do not include an anthem clause and neither does the collective bargaining agreement, and the commissioner taking your recommended stand could be devastating to the league given the NFL Players’ Association membership being almost 70-percent black. That union, at least, still has power. There is no NFL if only the black players protest during the anthem, and it hasn’t been just black players protesting.
I imagine the players value their right to protest less than guaranteed contracts but more than the right to use cannabis. On the topic of guaranteed contracts...
For a third consecutive season, running back Le’Veon Bell will play for the Steelers without a long-term contract in place, providing him no job security if he were to be injured in 2018. Pittsburgh’s final offer to Bell, which is likely to be the final contract the Steelers ever offer Bell, was reportedly worth $70 million over five years. But it only contained $10 million in guaranteed money, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport. And Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com tweeted that the deal would have been virtually identical to...the last contract” Pittsburgh offered because the boosts in value would have been based on the increase in value of the running back franchise tag.
Bell’s franchise tag with Pittsburgh will pay him $14.55 million this season, but if he were to be injured, Bell might end up with a mostly unguaranteed contract in 2019 if he’s healthy enough to play at all.
Bell isn’t the only player griping about the NFL’s non-guaranteed contracts, but running backs seem to be the loudest proponents for guaranteed contracts and for good reason. Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley told TMZ Sports that all NFL players deserve guaranteed contracts and expects a lockout by the players to get them in 2021.
Running back DeMarco Murray chose to retire at age 30, and during his short, seven-year career, Murray amassed just over $25 million. That’s what Yu Darvish will make this season despite spending much of it on the disabled list. Murray, remember, led the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage just four years ago. So a guy who was arguably the best player in the sport at one time made the same amount of money over his career as a top-30 starting pitcher will make this season despite appearing in just eight games thus far.
Major League Baseball, though, is not a hard-capped league. Owners could theoretically spend as much as they want on players, although not without paying a hefty competitive-balance tax. The same goes for the NBA, but the NFL and NHL owners benefit from a hard salary cap that limits the earning potential of players. It seems NFL players are better positioned in bargaining than they’ve ever been given decreasing viewership and youth participation. So what are the chances the NFLPA challenges the hard cap with a 2021 lockout, and how ugly is this round of collective bargaining going to get? And will it end the way the players want, with guaranteed contracts for all NFL players?
Dallas Cowboys pass rusher Randy Gregory has been reinstated by the NFL, ending a two-year banishment for repeat violations of the league’s Substances of Abuse Policy. Gregory’s use of cannabis while at Nebraska is well documented, and he’s told multiple media outlets that he used the drug to cope with anxiety.
With the STATES Act getting the support of Congressmen and -women on both sides of the aisle, it seems the end of cannabis prohibition will be determined by each individual state. It’s safe to say Texas might be one of the last states to adopt medical cannabis laws, but regardless of the laws in Texas, the STATES Act would still allow the NFL to prohibit cannabis use, medically or otherwise and in states where it's legal or otherwise. With cannabis remaining federally illegal, the NFL can pretty much demand what it wants of its employees regardless of state law. But the NFL Players’ Association can and should make it a point to demand cannabis prohibition end in the NFL.
On the show two months ago we talked about a high school football player whose use of CBD oil, the non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis that has healing and pain relieving properties, eased his seizures so he could play the game. But the .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis responsible for its euphoric effects, still present in his medicine made it impossible for him to realize his dream of playing for the Auburn Tigers due to NCAA rules. “We don’t want kids to give up their dreams of playing football for a living because there’s fewer and fewer of those kids in existence everyday due to concussion fears” seems like a strong message the NFLPA can use to get what it wants on this front.
Milwaukee Brewers reliever Josh Hader’s first All-Star appearance didn’t go very well, allowing three runs on four hits in a third of an inning, but what awaited him after the game was even worse.
Jeff Passan reported for Yahoo Sports that Twitter users uncovered a series of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets Hader made over an eight-month period when he was 17 years old. Hader thrice used the n-word, used the fist emoji followed by “white power lol” and another time tweeted, simply, “KKK.” “I hate gay people,” one tweet read, and two months before the Orioles drafted him in 2012, Hader tweeted, “Need a bitch that can bleep, cook, clean, right.”
Hader’s family and friends in attendance at the All-Star Game left Nationals Park with their Hader jerseys either inside-out or covered by generic, no-name National League All-Star jerseys. After the game, Hader called his comments “inexcusable” and said he was “deeply sorry” for what he said. “There’s nothing before that I believe now,” he added. “When you’re a kid, you tweet what’s on your mind.”
Regardless of age, those thoughts being on anyone’s mind should be troubling to anyone, and in my mind, it’s partially a result of just white, old-timers being white, old-timers and teaching their kids outdated and offensive habits, and partially a result of the segregation that persists in this country in the form of gentrification. Hader graduated from high school in Millersville, Maryland where 55 percent of enrolled students are minorities, according to U.S. News and World Report. But 71.3 percent of the city’s population is white.
Here in Minneapolis we have school segregation disguised as a “right to choose.” That is, parents and students have the so-called “right to choose” in which school they want to enroll, resulting in taxpayers like me paying more to bus white kids to mostly white schools further from the diverse neighborhoods in which they live.
Maryland also prides itself as a “right to choose” state, offering vouchers to low-income students to attend private and charter schools instead of public schools where the majority of students are minorities. That wasn’t the case for Hader, but he was sounding like Donald Trump before Donald Trump started sounding like Donald Trump. Hader’s tweets were published a year prior to the 2012 election that didn’t include Trump, but did see Barack Obama earn reelection by beating the pants off Mitt Romney.
So from where does this seemingly growing racist and sexist sentiment of young, white men start? Is it a direct result of the reign of white presidents coming to an end and a sense that white men’s power is finally being threatened?
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is facing two lawsuits alleging sexual assault. The first, brought by an unidentified Texas woman, accuses Dareus of sexual assault and transmission of a sexually transmitted disease, according to Chris Parenteau of News 4 Jacksonville.
The second lawsuit stems from an alleged incident occurring in Florida in January 2017, according to Greg Aumen of the Tampa Bay Times. Dareus rented a mansion in Florida the week of the college football national championship game and allegedly invited the accuser to an afterparty at the mansion, where she said Dareus groped her against her wishes. She then “blacked out” from drinking too much alcohol and awoke next to a naked Dareus, aware that sexual acts had been committed.
Dareus will move to have the second lawsuit dismissed on Aug. 9, but regardless of how the lawsuits are settled, Dareus would be subject to suspension by the NFL and for a considerable amount of time. The baseline suspension for sexual assault is six games, but the NFL hasn’t had to issue a punishment for multiple allegations as of yet, meaning Dareus could miss up to 12 games this season.
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was suspended by the team for five weeks and fined $200,000 after pleading guilty to extreme driving under intoxication on Tuesday. The suspension stems from an incident occurring the night of July 4th. Keim was arrested, booked and released the same night, but shouldn’t NFL GMs and owners be subject to the same conduct policy as the players?
Olympic figure skating medalist Denis Ten was murdered Thursday in Kazakhstan by a man who has since confessed to the crime in the presence of an attorney. Ten was stabbed after a dispute with people who allegedly tried to steal a mirror from his car in his home city. He died in the hospital of massive blood loss from multiple wounds, the Kazinform news agency said.
Our dishonorable mention this week is Milwaukee Bucks center Thon Maker, who was suspended three FIBA matches for delivering multiple flying kicks during a brawl between Australia and the Philippines in a World Cup qualifying match on July 2nd. Do you agree that flying kicks by a seven-footer would be considered cheating in a basketball brawl, Mike?
Winner of the Bronze Balls award this week is Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, who was suspended for the first game of the 2018 season. Fowler’s bronze balls are massive, as he refereed a fight between his baby momma and current girlfriend in February of 2016, a video of which TMZ released. Fowler also has 10 traffic violations since December of 2015, and is charged with misdemeanor battery and mischief after an arrest on Tuesday. All of this comes in a contract year for Fowler, Mike.
The Silver Syringe goes to New York Jets receiver ArDarius Stewart, who tested positive for a substance designed to mask performance-enhancing drug use, Ian Rapoport reports. While a suspension hasn’t been announced, it’s expected to keep Stewart out for two games.
Let’s get nostalgic and talk about foul play of the past, when news was delivered on paper and milk in reusable glass bottles. Here’s your sports-crime history lesson we call Historically Foul Play.
On July 20th, 1944, en route to a 20-win season, St. Louis Browns’ ace Nelson Potter became the first player in big-league history to be ejected and suspended for throwing spitballs. Potter denied ever loading up the ball with anything, and returned to play a big part as a reliever and spot starter in the Boston Braves’ World Series appearance in 1948.
The last player to be ejected and suspended for using a substance on baseballs is former Yankee and current Twin Michael Pineda, who was ejected and suspended for loading the ball with pine tar back in 2014.