Get Out
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Being Black For 103 Minutes: 'Get Out' From A White Millennial's Perspective

"If a powerful motion picture could ruffle the feathers of just a portion of white America, it has done its job."

On February 24, a 24-year-old kid from the suburbs ended his decade long horror movie drought (Texas Chainsaw Massacre did me dirty) by going to see Get Out, and without the push from three friends of my closest friends growing up, I don’t think I would have gone. My friends, all the same age as me, had a history of good taste in cinema, so I figured to trust their instincts. All four of us have lived in the mostly white suburban bubble of Westchester County, NY our entire lives, and they did not inform me of the racial aspect of the film going in. The trailer piqued my interest, but I really had no clue what I was getting myself into and just didn’t want to leave with a week’s worth of nightmares. I guess you could say I was numb to how poignantly the film would prey on racism within genious but subtle language, imagery and symbolism. What really put me all in was the Jordan Peele effect, the promise of comedic relief to be intertwined throughout the 103-minute social thriller.

My friends and I rolled up to the AMC Loews theater in Portchester, NY on a very cold Friday night for a prime time 8 p.m. showing. The crowd was diverse in age and ethnicity. I remember scoping out the scene, seeing black couples, white people and Latinos varied throughout, co-mingling in the spacious theater. Viewers looked to range from their early twenties to 50-plus, echoing the mixed-bag demographic of the town. More than anything, I was curious about the clientele because I had never been to the theater, and it wasn’t until after the film that I surveyed the crowd from our overhanging corner balcony seats more closely with race in mind.

I’ve never been in a theater where its viewers were so collectively engaged in the film. I remember hearing one black guy sitting behind me utter under his breathe, “this f**king b***h,” as Rose Armitage continued to bamboozle Chris Washington, her unsuspecting black boyfriend. The atmosphere almost felt as if we were right there with Chris sinking into his own nightmare, trying to help him will his way out of the Armitage insane asylum. The “social horror” kept my stomach churning and my brain knotted in anxiety as I awaited the film’s next on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment, eyes wide open just like Chris’ much-memed expression. Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams star as an interracial couple who visit her parents in the suburbs for the weekend, and any and everyone can identify with this kind of potential disaster of a situation. However, while wrapped up in the couple’s obviously complicated scenario, there are some key things that I walked away from the theater with.

The Jordan Peele Effect: Comedic Relief Keeps Us Sane

The funny moments in Get Out take you out of the thriller mentality at various points throughout its gasp-worthy turns. I think that’s what made me appreciate the film even more. Just when you’re ready to let your guard down, the thrilling factor comes back into play. Whether it was the awkward punchlines featuring racial undertones from Dean, Rose’s father (“If Obama could've run for a third term I would've voted for him”) or hilarious, borderline inappropriate friend advice from Rod, who began joking with Chris about how they would turn him into a sex slave, Peele’s genius shined through as someone who perfected the satire comedy lane.

“It's horrifying watching poor Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) paralyzed in that chair while his will and body are being stolen, because growing up, I felt as paralyzed as him,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote for The Hollywood Reporter.

Peele is of a bi-racial background, raised by his white mother, and channelled racist experiences with the older white generation growing up through painfully oblivious jokes and stereotypes of how the younger generation perceives our white elders within Get Out. Take, for example, when one of the party guests Gordon tells Chris, “I do know Tiger [Woods].” He believes that since Chris is black, that’s the only thing he would know about golf, which is a scary reality that some have that slightly condescending mentality. All I could do was laugh it off along with a few others in the theater.

Separate But Equal: Hidden Imagery & Subtle Foreshadowing

Peele’s clever use of imagery and foreshadowing could not go unnoticed and is layered to the point that you’ll need a second watch to figure out the parts that went over your head. The deer Rose hit dead at the start of the film went on to be symbolic of future parts of the film’s complex plot, and way more important than just a ploy to make you pop out of your seat. Notice how Chris was way more empathetic to the dead animal than Rose was. When Chris walks into the bushes to assess the damage, she stays planted by the car, incurious. The couple then arrives at the Armitage house, where Dean ashes the deer’s very existence. “One down, a couple hundred thousand to go,” he says dismissively. “They’re like rats. I see a dead deer on the side of the road, I say that’s a start.” It seemed rude but harmless at the time, but we later see that his true feelings about the deer reflect how he feels about black people.

While Mr. Armitage is giving Chris a tour of the house, he foreshadows many future integral parts of the plot, but his statements flowed within the conversation and didn’t make you question his words. “It’s a privilege to experience another person’s culture,” Dean says while showing off his collection of travel trinkets to Chris, another harmless statement until you realize his envy for black traits. It took me two viewings to catch the meaning behind what Dean told Chris when giving a tour of the house: “That’s the basement. We had to seal it up, got some black mold down there.” Pure genius screenwriting by Peele once again. There are multiple layers contained within the script that keep you focused throughout.

The last half hour of the film, in which Chris looks to make his escape out of the Armitage lockdown, felt like an eternity. After he discovers the photos of Rose and prior black suitors, including Walter the groundskeeper and even Georgina the maid, my heart immediately began beating abnormally as I tried to figure out his next move, praying for a positive outcome. As everyone in the theater knew by this time, Rose is in on the psychotic plan and won’t give Chris the car keys, while her brother Jeremy guards the front door with a lacrosse stick, a symbolism of a predominantly white sport. Peele later revealed he went with lacrosse over a golf club since that was already done before in a previous film.

Sparking An Uncomfortable Conversation From “The Sunken Place”

Many scenes throughout the film did make me feel uncomfortable, though, almost to the point where I had to get up and leave for a 30 second timeout. A prime example is when Chris is subjected to many awkward encounters and subtle racist comments at the family “party,” beginning with everyone’s black car arrival up to the painful conversations with the white guests where Chris is looked at as a puppet there for entertainment. I cringed when guests said things to Chris like, “black is in fashion,” or ask “how has the African-American experience been” for him. That was only the start. His interactions with Georgina and Logan, both robotic, were mind-boggling. The most unsettling of all was the bingo scene. I was in disgust of what was going on, as it drew eerily similar comparisons to the slave trade from America’s past.

When Chris is shackled down to an armchair in the “mold infested” basement awaiting the coagula procedure, it’s after he’s disappeared into the ground to The Sunken Place as Rose says, “You were one of my favorites.” The Sunken Place symbolizes the marginalization of black America, no matter the injustice, the systems in place whether the prison or education system to name a couple, are tactically designed to silence the people. Phase one of the procedure is the hypnotism where Chris is being broken down mentally, phase two follows with prepping his “new” psyche and finally the transmutation is performed. The scene invoked uneasy feelings reminiscent of slavery, as he’s chained against his will, freedom stripped. It wasn’t until after the film, strolling through the theater’s parking lot, that one of my childhood friends I saw the film with intelligently drew the comparison of Chris picking the cotton out of the chair to use as ear plugs to deny the hypnosis, another subdued use of symbolism.

When Chris ended up clubbing Jeremy in the head with a bloodied yellow bocce ball, another typically white sport instrument, the crowd let out a collective cheer and fist pumped, as I gasped the words, “Let’s go!” Chris ironically driving the deer head antlers through Mr. Armitage as he was prepping for the lobotomy is poetic justice at its finest. Meanwhile, Rose is upstairs minding her own business like nothing happened, too busy Googling her next victim (preferably a “Top NCAA prospect”) with framed photos of her previous boos—all of whom are now in the sunken place—hanging above her bed. Notice the snack choice: colorful Fruit Loops in one cup, with a white glass of milk kept separately, symbolizing the severed racial relations in society today and in their family.

As Chris successfully made his escape from the Armitage experiment, Rod, who had been trying to call attention to his missing friend the whole time, pulled up to save the day, a symbolism of loyalty in friendship. Admittedly, my stomach sank as I pictured the sirens being a cop rolling up to the scene to arrest Chris, but once I saw that TSA car, I let out a huge sigh of relief. The thriller ended on a positive and funny note, and the theater collectively gave a standing ovation with the credits rolling. It was a sight of beauty; I’ve never been in a theater where that was the case.

Get Out has raked in over $100 million at the box office in less than three weeks, so clearly Peele and his team are onto something and striking a nerve within the American people. The cinematic experience is a must-see in the theater, definitely worth the expensive $13 admission, which is a rarity these days. A film of this magnitude will help push the conversation about systematic racial oppression forward, but ultimately the burden falls on the shoulders of the millennial generation to invoke change.

“I wanted to make something that has a perspective that you don’t often see, but I also wanted it to be an inclusive movie,” Peele told the New York Times. “That’s the power of story and genre. You can ask a white person to see the world through the eyes of a black person for an hour and a half.”

The thought-provoking film still has my mind racing back to the strong symbolism and understated messaging from Get Out, easily the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. When I left the theater, I begin to take note of the audience standing up as the lights went on, listening into the chatter and it was unanimous approval, with biracial post-movie chatter higher than usual, debates of the film ensued immediately. I felt as if I went through a traumatic outer-body experience myself, trying to get my brain acclimated to reality once again. Peele has set the standard in the horror-satire lane with an original piece that entertained, but also left an impression on its viewers from a political, as well as racial perspective in American society. The response lead me to believe that if a powerful motion picture could ruffle the feathers of just a portion of white America, it has done its job.

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Opinion: The College Cheating Scandal Proves Mediocrity Is The Dominant White Gene

There are two ways one can look at the recent college cheating scandal: You can choose to view it with a water is wet kind of amazement. The cutthroat world of Ivy League acceptance has been fraught with bribery and legacy admissions for years, so actresses Felicity Huffman, Full House’s Lori Loughlin, and 48 other business leaders cutting checks so their child can cut in line isn’t surprising. It’s the American way. (Depending on the complexion of the American, of course.)

Or you can view it for what it is: well-to-do white parents knowing their child isn’t good or smart enough to gain admission into the country’s top schools on their own, so they foot the bill. That’s correct, your mediocrity can’t cut it in the real world unless you sandwich it with your parent's money and your unearned whiteness.

Tuesday morning (March 12), breaking news revealed Huffman, Loughlin, and others paid up to $6.5 million in bribes to secure placement at Yale, University of Southern California (USC), Stanford and other top schools.

Orchestrated by William Rick Singer, the former head of college admission prep company The Key, parents would make handsome donations and Singer would ensure their child’s academic future in one of two ways: After payment was made to a secret account, Singer would either phone a Division 1 coach to secure an athletic credential despite the child not playing the sport.

Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly agreed to pay $500,000 for their two daughters to be recruits for USC’s crew team. To bolster the “admission” photos of the couple’s children on a rowing machine were sent.

Haters will say it’s photoshop...well, because, it was.

Or parents would pay between $15,000 to $75,000 for Singer to arrange certain exam proctors look the other way while 36-year-old Harvard Alum Mark Riddle aced the test. Riddle, who’s described by law enforcement as “just a really smart guy” faces several charges including conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Several coaches at elite schools, two SAT/ACT and college administrators, and an exam proctor all face federal fraud charges.

But yes, let’s talk about how Affirmative Action is the real culprit.

Education has long been a battleground in this country with white people (remember the Abigal Fisher case?) yielding the best the world has to offer, while slaves had to teach themselves to read by candlelight. Then activists and parents lose life and limb just so their child can be in the classroom with white peers during the civil rights movement.

Fast forward a few decades, minority students met with microaggressions by their white counterparts have long had to deny the belief they only merited a spot at a top tier academic institution via an athletic scholarship. Meanwhile, one student’s parents reportedly made a $1.2 million payment to get into Yale, and magically their child is a soccer star despite never kicking a ball.

America is in love with poverty, struggle, and strife. It appropriates our rhythm and fetishizes our blues. The land of the free and home of the brave has built dilapidated communities for its black and brown citizens and loves to tout success stories as proof “hard work” and “dedication” means you too can achieve the American dream. That all it really takes to gain acceptance into an Ivy League school is a “can-do” attitude and a little elbow grease.

Actually, it has nothing to do with elbow grease or a tenacious attitude. It has everything to do with students not being good enough and mommy and daddy making it all better with their money, fame, access, and influence.

Aunt Becky’s kid can’t compete with 17-year-old Mekhi Johnson from Baltimore who earned acceptance into all eight Ivy League schools. Felicity Huffman’s offspring can’t go bar for bar with Michael Brown from Houston’s Third Ward who worked tirelessly to get into Stanford and not only got into the university but 19 others, including Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt, and Johns Hopkins.

Yes, boys and girls, unlike Brown’s namesake our children are deserving of the best and not just being shot down in the middle of a Ferguson street.

The brilliance is in the black and browness and your kids just don’t have it, but what you do have is power and you wield it sans grace. In 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar was sentenced to 10 days in jail and three years probation for sending her children to a better school district in Ohio.

And if we’re not jailed for wanting better, we’re scrutinized for doing better. So while it’s ordinary for a white student to score high on a standardized test, Florida high school student Kamillah Campbell gets flagged for her 330 points SAT increase despite hiring a tutor and studying the Princeton Review Prep book seven months after initially taking the test.

Your privilege is putrid. Your hypocrisy makes my stomach turn. Your inability, as scripture notes, to see the plank in your own eye, has left you blind to your vile ways. How dare your child be so mediocre and you still deem it fit they deserve excellence?

The investigation is still open and law enforcement officials haven’t found evidence that support’s the idea one parent’s bribe may have bumped another student out of admissions. It’s also unclear if the students will have any legal actions taken against them.

I suspect the money that got the parents into this mess will be the money that will get them out of it. The rich stay rich the poor continue to struggle and the world goes round, right?

Right.

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Singer-songwriter Michael Jackson waves to fans after he is found not guilty on all counts in his child molestation trial at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse June 13, 2005 in Santa Maria, California.

Opinion: We Can't Ignore 'Leaving Neverland'

Leaving Neverland is not the documentary I thought it would be.

Dan Reed’s two-part, four-hour long HBO docuseries is polarizing and controversial. Subjects Wade Robson and James Safechuck were two of a series of boys Michael Jackson befriended during the height of his fame, and Leaving Neverland chronicles their accounts of meeting the star and being brought into his inner sanctum: touring with him, spending extensive amounts of time at Neverland, gifts and favors bestowed upon the boys and their families – and Jackson’s alleged sexual abuse.

The controversy around the documentary, however, isn’t whether Robson and Safechuck’s stories are believable, but whether it merits watching at all.

Jackson superfans have been rabidly swarming anyone who mentions Leaving Neverland on Twitter, sending court transcripts and links they argue debunk allegations made over the years and discredit Robson and Safechuck. Some fans have complained about black writers, especially, who’ve reviewed the documentary without dismissing it as a farce.

Those fans are about to be mad at me.

I believe one’s approach to Leaving Neverland depends on what Michael Jackson era they experienced. I’m old enough to remember Thriller’s release (I was in elementary school), to remember the “Black or White” video premiere on TV (middle school), and to remember the Wacko Jacko tabloid era. Michael Jackson was synonymous with scandal for over a decade. Severe alterations to his appearance; questions about his sexuality – or lack thereof; his unusual obsessions like The Elephant Man’s remains; his propensity to take a chimpanzee with him everywhere, and then take young boys with him everywhere; his incredibly strange marriages first to the princess of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Lisa Marie Presley, and then to Debbie Rowe, the mother of his children (who seemed like the most random white woman on the planet for Michael Jackson to procreate with); and finally his behavior as a father, covering his kids with masks in public (which I think many of us understand, now), and dangling his infant baby over a hotel balcony. For much of the ‘90s, Michael was prime tabloid fodder, and his relationship with black culture was complicated. Black comedy was peppered with MJ jokes, including jokes about his alleged pedophilia. Even as we were jamming to Dangerous, we still clowning him – I remember the extensive analysis of his awkward kiss with Iman in the “Remember the Time” video. Michael was weird, but he was still a musical genius. There wasn’t a conversation, then, about the limits of separating art from the artist.

When 13-year old Jordan Chandler accused Michael of sexual assault in 1993, I was a senior in high school. I don’t remember if I believed it, but I know I didn’t not believe it. I at least believed – as I still do - that Michael’s relationships with the boys in his life were completely inappropriate as a grown ass man. Even if he was a socially and emotionally regressed Peter Pan-figure. I wasn’t that invested, though, because by 1993 Michael wasn’t the mythological, faint-inducing King of Pop he was when I was a kid. He was a deeply flawed character who still put up some bangers. Like I said before, it was complicated.. By the second trial a decade later, I believed the accusations. I followed the spectacle and had seen the surreal Martin Bashir documentary, Living With Michael Jackson, which prompted Jackson’s 2003 arrest on nine counts relating to child molestation, but I was even less invested. Michael was acquitted both times, but also settled with both families.

Over the years, however, I’ve grown doubtful. There were walk backs; Jackson’s housekeeper’s son said during the Chandler investigation that Michael had fondled him, only to then refuse to go on record with the statement or testify. The 2005 Arvizo trial was messy: Bashir doubled back on previous public comments to defend Michael’s relationship with the children. Witness testimony from the alleged victim’s brother came apart during cross-examination. Questions about the Arvizo family’s intentions and credibility arose with revelations that the mother was under investigation for welfare fraud and the father had pushed the young sons to shoplift in the past. Also, since I wasn’t actively engaged during the trials, I hadn’t closely examined all the details. But I’d watched every interview and statement - Michael hadn’t done as much public speaking as he did following the first set of accusations since the beginning of his solo career. It was morbidly fascinating. I thought I knew real facts and not misinformation or spin, but I felt I needed to take another look.

In the cases of Robeson and Safechuck, neither ever brought accusations against Jackson while he was alive. In fact, both testified in his defense against Chandler, adamantly denying Jackson had ever been inappropriate with them. Robson initially declined the request to testify again in 2005, but said his mother convinced him support Michael. Safechuck’s mother also told him he should show up for Jackson again, but he refused. The men also hadn’t cut Michael out of their lives. Robson, best known as the creative director for *NSYNC and Britney Spears at their massive peaks, took his wife to meet Jackson soon before his death and even discussed collaborating. He and his family attended Michael’s funeral at the Jackson family’s invitation. Then, several years later, both men publicly alleged Jackson had abused them for years, and sued the late entertainer’s estate and existing companies. The lawsuits were both dismissed because too much time had passed since the alleged abuse happened; there was no decision on the credibility of the accusations.

I not only understand the skepticism around this documentary, I shared it. Why now? Are Reed, Robson and Safechuck trying to ride the #MeToo wave? Is it a money grab? (Reed says Robson, Safechuck and their families weren’t compensated for their participation.) Also, this docuseries doesn’t meet the investigative standards of Surviving R Kelly, with reporters, people who worked with the artist, psychologists, industry executives, and multiple points of view presented. While there is video footage of Michael with Safechuck, Robson and their families, and at points relative news and TV clippings to establish time and circumstance, this is solely their and their family’s side of the story. The Jackson Estate and family have condemned the documentary and the accounts. I was honestly watching it just to be able to say I did my due diligence before dismissing it.

I was caught off-guard.

#AfterNeverland, an @Oprah Exclusive. After watching the 2-part @HBODocs #LeavingNeverland on @HBO - tune in to see Oprah's conversation with Wade Robson, James Safechuck, and doc director David Reed. Monday at 10p. pic.twitter.com/92E8yiRM73

— Oprah Winfrey Network (@OWNTV) March 1, 2019

Leaving Neverland isn’t just a story of Michael’s alleged abuse. It’s a story of how grooming and long-time abuse affects victims and their families. In the first part of the documentary, both men recount how their relationships with Michael developed and evolved, starting with the awe of having the sun of the biggest superstar in history shine on them, and growing into grooming - not just of the boys but their families - and eventually alleged physical abuse. After part one, I still wasn’t convinced. I believed some of it, but the very graphic details were hard to reconcile.

Part two changed that, for me. Reed told Oprah Winfrey during her post-show special that Leaving Neverland “isn’t about Jackson, it’s about what happened to Wade and James.” In the second part of the series, Robson and Safechuck tell Reed how Michael’s influence affected them as they grew up. How they handled his distance as they got older, how they and their families supported Michael during his trial, how emotional trauma started showing up in their lives, how they processed his death. Most importantly, why they finally decided to tell their story, and how it impacted their families.

Nothing rang false. Nothing felt contrived.

Now, I have to process what this means for my personal relationship with Michael and his music as a fan. After his death, I simply placed all the problematic questions about him to the side and celebrated the parts of him I loved, as I believe many of us did. We started filling in the gaps in Michael’s story - his emotional trauma, his loneliness, his desire to recreate childhood. I had even come around to the theory that Michael was completely asexual. But I also believed he was manipulative; enough stories from the music business exist to confirm that. And I believed he didn’t think the normal rules of life applied to him. Now I believe it was much deeper and more disturbing than that.

Some of the fans I’ve seen rallying furiously against the documentary in an effort to protect Michael's legacy seem too young to realize that his legacy was complicated and murky when he died, that he was redeemed in death. But we can’t afford to keep ignoring inconvenient truths about the figures we love. No matter how much brilliance and joy they gave the world, no matter how troubled or broken. Leaving Neverland and the reexamining of Michael is not a smear campaign against Jackson, this is a reckoning.

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Spike Lee attends the 24th annual Critics' Choice Awards at Barker Hangar on January 13, 2019 in Santa Monica, California.
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Spike Lee’s 'BlacKKKlansman' Oscar Nods Show Power In Sticking To Your Guns

The nominations for the 91st Academy Awards have been announced, and per usual there were some things of note. How did Toni Collette not get nominated for her performance in Hereditary? Does the Academy hate Mister Rogers? Who are these people that think Vice is good? Each of these is worth exploring separately, but another big takeaway is that both Black Panther and BlacKKKlansman are nominated for Best Picture.

Black Panther was not only the highest grossing domestic release of 2018 (just the third film in history to gross $700 million), but it was critically acclaimed as well, currently holding a 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Its nomination for Best Picture makes it the first superhero movie to receive that honor. The fact that a $200 million blockbuster that thematically wrestles with pan-African identity could even be nominated is worth a celebration in itself. That doesn’t even cover the other six nominations the film earned. Funny enough, people may be able to thank Black Panther’s big screen arrival to the man who first put any mention of the character on the big screen. That, of course, is BlacKKKlansman director Spike Lee.

For the first time in his career, Spike Lee is nominated for Best Director. The honor is significant in that he’s no stranger to Academy recognition. His seminal film Do The Right Thing (1989) earned him his very first nomination in the category of Best Original Screenplay. Almost a decade later, 4 Little Girls (1997), the film about the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, would earn him a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

At his best, Spike Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African American life.

BlacKKKlansman tells the real-life story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) — the first African-American to join the Colorado Springs Police Department—who infiltrates the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan by posing as a white man. Upon the film's release, it received critical acclaim and was widely seen as a return to form for Lee.

Lee’s career dates back to the 1986 release of his debut film She’s Gotta Have It (which has since been adapted into a Netflix original series) and was followed by School Daze in ‘88. Both films were well received, but it was his 1989 film Do The Right Thing that elevated Lee’s status as a director. On the surface, it mainly focuses on a day in the life of a pizza delivery man named Mookie (played by Lee), but it’s pulsing with commentary about racial tensions between Brooklyn residents as well as those between African-Americans and the police. That social commentary, along with the distinct look and feel of the neighborhood where it’s set, the colorful characters, and the emotionally charged finale, are just a handful of characteristics that have become synonymous with Lee’s work. The film received critical acclaim and has since been added to the National Film Registry. Although it earned Lee his first Academy Award nomination, he would ultimately lose to Tom Schulman for Dead Poets Society.

At his best, Lee has captured, perhaps better than any other black filmmaker, the cultural momentum of African-American life. He’s remained vocal about the importance of African-American history, with films such as Malcolm X and Miracle At St. Anna. He’s offered his take on current issues that are unique to black life (the aforementioned School Daze, Jungle Fever, Chi-Raq). He’s also never shied away from being a proud New Yorker, as several of his films are set in his native Brooklyn (Crooklyn, He Got Game, Red Hook Summer). What makes Lee such an interesting figure in the world of modern film is that he’s clearly an admirer and student of classic cinema, but has consistently tried to offer an outsider’s perspective. A common criticism of his work is that he often gets in his own way with bloated plots and story beats that don’t always fit, or that his message sometimes comes across as preachy. While his dedication is admirable, one starts to wonder if the scarcity of black filmmakers working for major studios, let alone being recognized by the Academy, drives his tendency to overindulge. How many other filmmakers of color are working as consistently as him, with the freedom to tackle so many of these issues? There are points in his career (2004's She Hate Me) where it seems like he really just wants the void to be filled with anything he can throw at it, rather than run the risk of it disappearing altogether.

And that brings us back to BlacKKKlansman, and how incredible it is that the Academy is finally giving recognition to Lee’s work as a director. Among its six nominations, Lee has three (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture).

Along with the aforementioned nominations for his films, Denzel Washington earned a Best Actor nomination in 1993 for playing Malcolm X in Lee’s film of the same name. He lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, and Lee has remained vocal in his criticism of that decision. More recently, he was one of several black celebrities who boycotted the awards in 2016 amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. His relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, almost makes this a feel-good story.

BlacKKKlansman feels like a natural extension of Lee’s most recognizable work. The film isn’t set in Brooklyn, but it does feature an everyman protagonist who must learn that he doesn’t have all the answers. And through that protagonist, Lee gives himself the right balance to deliver the messages he wants. Whether it’s dealing with the relationship between African Americans and law enforcement, militant approaches to social justice, America’s history of lynching, the effects of white supremacy on non-black minorities, or white supremacy’s larger social influence, Lee is able to tackle race in a way that serves as both a genuine history lesson and a lens through which people ought to examine the current political and social climate. The relationships between Ron Stallworth and the other characters help Lee communicate a multilayered commentary on race. The audience doesn’t just see how Ron approaches the topic as it relates to the Klan, but he also has to figure out how to work with his fellow police officers, as he is the first and only black man on the force. The film almost takes on too much weight in giving him a love interest (Laura Harrier), but because she’s an activist, Ron is forced to consider that even within the black community, people have varying ideas on how to achieve justice. Each of these dynamics serves a specific role that allows for Ron to grow throughout the film.

Commentary aside, the film scored well with critics and audiences because it allows the audience to have fun at the expense of people who often get the last laugh. Make no mistake, the Klan looks terrible here. Not just in the inherent evil that they stand for, but in perhaps being some of the dumbest individuals Lee has ever featured in any of his films. These are the things that make the heavy subject matter palatable. The very idea that Ron’s partner Flip (Adam Driver) is a Jewish man that has to pose as an aspiring KKK member, is one giant joke in itself. There is no coincidence that David Duke, former grandmaster of the KKK and one of the film’s antagonists, leads chants of “America first.” Lee undercuts that humor periodically through the film, most notably in a finale that draws a direct line between the KKK and the 2017 Charlottesville rally (that David Duke attended) which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer.

Perhaps the most noteworthy bits about Lee being nominated this year is that the person who brought the project to him, Jordan Peele (also nominated for Best Picture as a producer on BlacKKKlansman), is the first African-American to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. That film, about a black man who goes to meet his white girlfriend’s family, makes race the key ingredient in its plot and its broader commentary, much like a majority of Spike Lee’s work. It's also similar to another film that is nominated for Best Picture this year, Marvel’s Black Panther, which oddly enough brings the character’s journey to the big screen full circle.

Spike Lee's relationship with the Academy has had some tense moments, so for him to finally receive these nominations, for a film that doesn’t stray far from what he’s been doing for most of his career, makes this a feel-good story.

Perhaps we should thank Spike Lee for that.

In the screenplay that earned him his first Academy Award nomination, Do The Right Thing, there is a scene in which the character Junebug is trying to organize a boycott of Sal’s Pizza. After asking some people in the neighborhood, he’s mostly met with no's. One of the reasons offered? Black Panther. “Black Panther eats pizza. We eat pizza,” says Punchy (Leonard Thomas) as he holds up a single issue of, you guessed it, the Black Panther comic book. This mention probably didn’t pique general audience interest quite like Chadwick Boseman’s debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War as the first live-action appearance of the character, but the idea of manifesting these things into existence isn’t complete nonsense.

As it stands, neither Black Panther nor BlacKKKlansman is favored to win Best Picture, but a strong argument could be made about Spike’s chances to take home the Oscar for Best Director, which would make him the first black recipient of that award.

The first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, and the chance of us seeing the first black winner for Best Director? Punchy from Do The Right Thing had the right idea.

Black Panther blazes a trail in cinematic history. Spike Lee blazes one, too.

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