By Megan Bianco
Two years ago I wrote an article on how the political atmosphere of Bob Fosse’s adaptation of Cabaret (1972) was eerily similar to the climate of the 2016 election and disconnect between voters and leaders. At the time, it was just a comparison I felt and I was secretly hoping in the back of my mind things would blow over by the time we got a new administration. How foolish of me.
I’m older and possibly wiser now than I was with the previous presidents in the White House: Obama, Bush and Clinton. I was born two decades after Watergate and Vietnam, but I could tell how upset the country was then not only from history books, but also classic pop culture. The 1960s and 70s were truly a radical time for artists to express themselves, not only independently and sexually, but also politically. In the super square ‘50s, you kept your controversial opinions to yourselves.
Rock bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane and Buffalo Springfield preached anti-war anthems like “Fortunate Son,” “Volunteers” and “For What It’s Worth” in the middle of the Vietnam war and the draft. CSNY’s “Ohio” was inspired by the Kent State shootings in 1970.
When the housing market crashed in 2008, I was a college freshman who just thought: “Wow, this sucks. Maybe we’ll get some get music out of this.” Another naive consideration. Although, the question does remain: Where are the political anthems of this generation?
A lot of great indie music was composed when I was in college, but nothing really specific to current events. In film, we do appear to be getting some movies with relevant themes, like the classics of the 1960s and 70s: In the Heat of the Night (1967), All the President’s Men (1976) and Network (1976). Just this year we have Paul Schrader’s First Reformed and Spike Lee’s BlackKkKlansman, the former with climate change as a theme, and the other on the rebirth of open racism.
Lee’s film in particular becomes instantly relevant not only because it’s based on a real incident from 1974 with the KKK and a black cop in Colorado Springs, but (spoiler alert) the final scene is a montage of real-life footage of the riot in Charlottesville, VA, last summer. It’s not jarring or out of place, in fact it’s rather startling to see how similar Stallworth’s story from 44 years ago is to an incident from only 12 months ago. Both Lee’s adaptation and the modern footage feature former KKK leader and politician David Duke with pretty much the exact same stance.
BlackKklansman is a commentary on how openly prejudiced and bigoted society has become in the past two years, and in usual Lee fashion, it is polarizing and stark in its tone. The racists are 100 percent racist with their slurs and lingo, and some phrases seem completely and intentionally lifted from Internet message boards and comment sections.
The Internet has always been a cesspool for hate, but the quantity of racially offensive terms and conspiracy theories that have skyrocketed since 2015 is still bewildering. If a Spike Lee movie can come across as not only witty, satirical social commentary, but damn near a documentary, that’s saying quite a lot.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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