ArtFilm / TVRace

boots riley questions blackkklansman’s depiction of cointelpro cop as hero

August 20, 2018
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This article and Boots Riley’s tweets are filled with spoilers for ‘Blackkklansman’ so be warned!

Boots Riley wears many hats other than Surrealist filmmaker and rock band front man (The Coup!). The auteur has an established reputation as a radical activist and cultural critique. The latest film to come under his lens is Spike Lee’s recent Cannes Grand Prix winning film ‘Blackkklansman’. Riley prefaced his critique – which was posted on Twitter – by mentioning that Lee was the reason he went to film school and even mentioned that Lee’s own reputation of cultural critique inspired him. Even with the considerate preamble, Riley went in on the implications of how the story around Ron Stallworth – the black cop at the center of ‘Blackkklansman’ who allegedly infiltrated the KKK – was reframed to make the former cop a hero when the evidence proved otherwise.

‘Blackkklansman’ is being heavily promoted as true story about a Black cop infiltrating the Klan with his Jewish partner but Riley goes on to dispel that assertion by stating “It’s a made up story in which the false parts of it try to make a cop the protagonist in the fight against racist oppression. It’s being put while Black Lives Matter is a discussion, and this is not coincidental.”

Riley highlights this because according to papers by the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) revealed through the Freedom of Information Act, Stallworth actually infiltrated a Black radical organization in order to sabotage it from the inside.

Riley adds “Cointelpro papers show us that these police infiltrators of radical organizations worked to try and disrupt the organizations through things like instigating fighting acting crazy to make the organizations look bad, getting physical altercations happening and setting them up to be murdered by the police or others.”

What Riley is trying to communicate is that when white supremacist organizations are infiltrated, they aren’t disrupted but used to target radical organizations, pointing a known history of police force involvement in destabilizing organizations fighting for Black rights. According to the papers, Stallworth spent three years infiltrating a Black radical organization instead of trying to stop a single event like in the film. Stallworth wrote a memoir to reframe opinion around him but his novel doesn’t mention the key events that drive the film forward. Riley mentions early on that his issue is with the ramifications of Spike Lee pushing a story that places cops and radical freedom fighters on the same side of the fight against racial oppression when even in 2018, a Black Baltimore cop is seen violently assaulting an unarmed Black man.

“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,” according to the LA Times and combining that information with Riley’s other damning assertion that Lee was paid $200,000 in a NYPD campaign to aid relations between police and minority communities is damning. Lee has not responded to Riley’s critiques but as someone who has been outspoken about Tyler Perry’s movies relating to the Black community, the director might have something to say on Riley’s charge that ‘Blackklansman’ implies that the Black community should focus on its own actions because the cops are on its side.