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Eminem's 'Kamikaze' Attack On Joe Budden Illustrates Two Paths For Aging Emcees

Two of hip-hop's most talented lyricists are handling aging in rap in two different ways. 

2017 represented a fork in the road for two, aging, capital “L” Lyrical; wordsmiths in an era of hip-hop that was rapidly moving away from that. Toward the end of 2016, Joe Budden released what would be his final album in Rage & The Machine. The collection of technically proficient, moody music was a fitting exit.

Opinionated as ever about the state of hip-hop on his podcast and songs like “Uncle Joe,” the New Jersey rapper pointed out the difference between himself and the current crop of artists. In the months following Rage & The Machine’s release, that difference became more and more evident. He critiqued Drake’s album Views on The Joe Budden Podcast, eventually engaging in a battle with the Toronto superstar in which Budden appeared to be the only active participant. As he continued to watch the gulf widen between himself—a traditional lyricist par excellence—and the artists that were topping the charts, the New Jersey rapper took the bold step of announcing his retirement.

The announcement was definitive and pointed. It was less a concession that his best years as a rapper were behind him, and more of an acknowledgment that his best years as something else were ahead of him. He was not planning to fade quietly into obscurity like his peers before him, and since Budden had proven himself a charismatic content creator long before that was a common phrase, he didn’t have to.

Talk to em. #JoeBuddenPodcast @spotify

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Besides creating content, he also had a knack for being ahead of the curve and forecasting trends. He served as a co-host of Hot 97’s morning show in 2004—foreshadowing his career as a podcaster. The voyeuristically personal Mood Musik mixtape series would inspire fan-turned-nemesis Drake, among many others, to bare their innermost thoughts and demons in their music. Even his Joe Budden TV YouTube channel and his early adoption of Twitter are examples of the many trends Budden set in hip-hop culture while others received the credit and accolades.

Instead of becoming bitter, Joe Budden responded to the changing world around him by parlaying his charisma and insider’s perspective into becoming hip-hop’s most popular talking head on Complex’s Everyday Struggle, while still hosting his increasingly popular, self-titled podcast.

The other aging emcee who had a turning point in 2017 was Eminem. Instead of finding a new way to address the world that was changing around him, he responded by releasing Revival. Em’s late-career singles “Not Afraid,” “Love The Way You Lie,” and “The Monster,” are more Dr. Luke than Dr. Dre, but were also all huge commercial hits. Unfortunately, the Detroit rapper went back to that well one time too many for Revival, surrounding more navel-gazing pop ballads with 101-level political discourse and scatological humor. Revival was a mix of the worst impulses from his worst work.

"Eminem’s response to the criticism of his last album should not have been to lash out at every critic. It should have been to make better music."

It was met with mixed reviews and a relatively lethargic commercial response. Even with features from the likes of Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, and Alicia Keys, Revival disappeared from hip-hop fans’ collective consciousness like an Instagram Story. On its lead single, the Beyonce-featured “Walk On Water,” the Detroit emcee lamented setting the bar so high early in his career, that he was unsure that he could clear it again as a middle-aged veteran. “Into the dark, I plummet/Now the sky's blackening, I know the mark’s high/Butterflies rip apart my stomach/Knowing that no matter what bars I come with/You're gonna hark, gripe, and that's a hard Vicodin to swallow,” he rapped. The album even missed commercial success, being his first album to not reach the RIAA platinum certification. He did indeed fall short in 2017, which led some to question if the battle-tested 45-year-old would reach those heights again.

In a contact sport of a different kind, Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson was the subject of harsh criticism from former players-turned-television personalities Cris Carter and Shannon Sharpe. After news broke that the 33-year-old was continuing his career with the Redskins, both Sharpe and Carter expressed skepticism that the former MVP would be able to perform at a high level again. Peterson responded that “watching some of the things they said about me, man, it really hurt me to the core… ‘he's washed up and this, that, and the other, and he should just retire.’ How dare you?”

On August 31, 2018, hip-hop’s former MVP responded to criticism in a similarly combative fashion. Eminem unexpectedly dropped his tenth studio album, Kamikaze. The album is a sharp turn from Revival with a motivated Eminem spending a significant portion of the album lashing out at critics, including journalists and artists like Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt—both of whom cite Em as an early influence. Of the many rappers who caught strays, the one sent Joe Budden’s way felt the most personal. On “Fall,” Eminem says, “Somebody tell Budden before I snap, he better fasten it/ Or have his body baggage zipped/ The closest thing he's had to hits is smacking b***hes.”

READ MORE: Joe Budden And 16 Other People Eminem Dissed On ‘Kamikaze’ Album

The shot was not expected. Joe Budden has created a lane for himself that previously only existed for athletes, becoming the Cris Carter and Shannon Sharpe to Eminem’s Peterson. He’s now an ex-jock turned broadcaster. Similar to the sports world, rappers are very careful to not critique other rappers, unless they are universally disregarded as unworthy of respect. An additional layer to the Eminem and Joe Budden relationship is the fact that Eminem signed Budden’s group Slaughterhouse to Shady Records, where they remain under contract. So when Budden called Revival single “Untouchable” “one of the worst songs I ever heard,” the line was crossed, and the gauntlet was thrown down. On Wednesday (Sept. 5), Budden fired off his response to “Fall” on his new podcast episode, "TV & Mayonnaise."

“I've been better than you this entire f**king decade," he said to Em. “You gotta say something. You have not said anything for the better part of a whole f**king decade!"

Eminem is an all-time great emcee and has earned the right to rap until he is 100 years old if he wants. The ageism in hip-hop is just as unfair as the fogeyism that has caused established artists to decry their younger counterparts for taking the genre into new and different directions. However, Eminem, nor any other artist, is above reproach. Eminem’s response to the criticism of his last album should not have been to lash out at every critic. It should have been to make better music. As it stands, he managed to tarnish the latter by doing the former.

While it doesn’t stand up to his groundbreaking early albums, Kamikaze is a return to form as the Detroit emcee sounds like he’s having fun rapping again. However, the bitter taste of Revival taints the fresher approach of Kamikaze; maybe Em is in on the joke. On the “Paul” skit, his business partner and now Def Jam head honcho Paul Rosenberg wonders, “What’s next? Kamikaze 2, the album where you reply to everybody who didn’t like the previous album? It’s a slippery slope.”

As for Budden, he chose a different path. Instead of complaining about how different hip-hop became or his detractors, he created new options for hip-hop legacy acts to thrive. His eponymous podcast is among the most downloaded on the iTunes charts and was just picked up by streaming conglomerate Spotify. He's also announced a new show State of the Culture on Revolt TV, which will bring his pointed takes on hip-hop and beyond to millions of TV screens.

Hip-hop is a 40-year-old genre that doesn’t seem to know what to do with its 40-year-old artists. Innovation and open-mindedness will decide whether hip-hop’s elders will fade away like their predecessors, or remain in the public eye. Artists can either choose to change what they don’t like about the state of hip-hop culture or complain themselves into obscurity.

READ MORE: Sorry, Drake And Nicki, But Hip-Hop Is Changing

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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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