Director Boots Riley issues a sharp critique of Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’


Boots Riley has some serious issues with Spike Lee’s new film, “BlacKkKlansman” — to put it lightly.

Taking a page from Lee, a fellow outspoken cultural critic, the “Sorry to Bother You” director offered up a sharp critique of the “content and timing of the film” in a statement he released Friday on Twitter.

“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), a black Colorado Springs, Colo., detective who infiltrated a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s with the help of his Jewish coworker (portrayed by Adam Driver).


After acknowledging Lee’s huge influence on him — “He’s the reason I went to film school so many years ago” — Riley argued that, while “BlacKkKlansman” is billed as a true story, inaccurate additions to the film present Stallworth as a hero.

“Without the made up stuff and with what we know of the actual history of police infiltration into radical groups, and how they infiltrated and directed White Supremacist organizations to attack those groups, Ron Stallworth is the villain,” Riley wrote in his three-page missive.

(Fair warning: As Riley noted, his critique contains significant spoilers about the film.)

Riley took particular issue with the real-life Stallworth’s infiltration of a black radical organization for three years. In the film, he infiltrates just a single event.

Riley alleged that Stallworth’s actions were aligned with an FBI counterintelligence program that worked to destroy radical organizations fighting racism and oppression. Undercover cops in the program, he said, also organized assassinations of black civil rights leaders.

Another fictitious detail in the film added to the positive portrayal of police, Riley said. Stallworth’s partner who infiltrated the Klan was not actually Jewish.


“This was a made up thing to raise the stakes and make it seem like the cops were sacrificing more than they were,” the director said. “For Spike to come out with a movie where... story points are fabricated in order to make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing, to put it very mildly.”

Riley also pointed out that the New York Police Department paid Lee — a longtime critic of the organization — more than $200,000 to support a new policing program aimed at improving police relations with minority communities.

“Blackkklansman feels like an extension of that ad campaign,” Riley said.

As of Saturday afternoon, Lee had not publicly responded to Riley’s criticisms.