US director Spike Lee has hit out at President Donald Trump over his response to last year’s violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In an expletive-ridden monologue at the Cannes Film Festival, Lee told reporters that following the events in Charlottesville, Mr Trump had the opportunity to denounce the Ku Klux Klan and the alt-right.
Instead, Mr Trump had said there was “blame on both sides” in the unrest between neo-Nazi groups and counter-protesters.
The 61-year-old filmmaker said Mr Trump – whom he refused to call by name – had “a chance to say we are about love and not hate”, and sharply criticised him for not denouncing the KKK.
“It was a defining moment and he could have said to the United States and the world that we’re better than that,” said Lee.
His new film BlacKkKlansman premiered at Cannes on Monday night to a rousing standing ovation.
The 1979-set film, loosely based on a true story, is about black police detective Ron Stallworth (played by Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington) and a Jewish detective (Adam Driver) who together infiltrated a Ku Klux Klan cell in Colorado. Topher Grace plays former KKK leader David Duke.
The film, produced by Jordan Peele, concludes by connecting the period tale with today.
BlacKkKlansman ends with actual footage from Charlottesville, as well as Mr Trump’s televised response.
The final image is an upside-down American flag that fades to black and white.
Focus Features will release the film in August, on the anniversary of Charlottesville.
Having already wrapped the film, Lee added the Charlottesville coda after the unrest last summer.
“Right away, I knew that this had to be the coda for the film, but I had to do something first,” said Lee.
Before inserting footage of the car that ploughed through crowds in Virginia, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer, Lee said he telephoned Heyer’s mother.
“I was not going to put that murder scene in the film without her blessing,” said Lee.
Lee called Charlottesville an “ugly, ugly, ugly blemish on America”, but he also repeatedly stressed to the international Cannes media that the racism depicted in BlacKkKlansman is not unique to the United States.
“This right-wing (expletive) is not just America. It’s all over the world. And we have to wake up,” said Lee.
“We can’t be silent. It’s not black, white, or brown. It’s everybody. We all live on this planet, and this guy in the White House has the nuclear code. I go to bed thinking about it.”
At the premiere, Lee was outfitted in a shiny purple-and-orange tuxedo and wore one ring declaring “love” on one hand, and “hate” on the other, paying homage to the jewelry won by the character Radio Raheem in his previous film Do The Right Thing.
He bounced into the premiere at the Palais announcing: “Brooklyn’s in the house!”
Lee has frequently debuted films at Cannes, including Do The Right Thing in 1989.
He hopes BlacKkKlansman “shakes people from their slumber”.
“I know it in my heart,” said Lee. “We’re on the right side of history with this film.”