Until today, I didn’t know how you could possibly make a film class that touches on Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” more controversial than it could be in my imagination. Well, you learn new things every day in this job.
New things, for instance, like the fact that a rant on White House adviser Stephen Miller could be a part of the course. Or that the teacher could really emphasize the connection the film made between the Ku Klux Klan and President Donald Trump. Or that this all took place at a state university, which meant your tax dollars went toward subsidizing it (at least if you’re in Lone Star State).
The controversy has to do with a teacher at Texas State University who included the 2018 Spike Lee film (or “Spike Lee joint,” to use his argot) in her class.
Rebecca Bell-Metereau is, among other things, the author of “Transgender Cinema,” co-editor of “Star Bodies and the Erotics of Suffering” and a former Democratic candidate for Texas Legislature. Not to say that any of these in isolation would necessarily be negative, but put them together and you can perhaps begin to gather who we’re dealing here.
Lee’s film is also probably what you think it is. “BlacKkKlansman” is a based-on-a-true-story flick about a Colorado Springs police officer who manages to infiltrate the Klan back in the 1970s. Interesting enough, but you bet your bippy there are clear signposts that Lee is comparing the KKK to the Trump administration.
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One notable scene has Klansmen chanting “America first!”
Just in case you didn’t get where Lee was going with that, the film ends with footage from the rebarbative “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, followed by Trump’s response.
Former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s response — Duke is a major character in the film — is also included, just in case you really, really didn’t get where he was going with that.
Thirty-odd years into his cinematic career, Lee has yet to learn the charms of subtlety.
So, clearly, this is a tricky film to handle in a classroom environment. Well, that’s at least if you care to feign objectivity. Bell-Metereau’s test for “BlacKkKlansman” showed that zero cares were given in that department:
That’s from the official Texas College Republicans account. The question asks, “What is true about the ‘America First’ slogan in the film and present day?” One of the potential answers — confirmed by Bell-Metereau to Campus Reform — is “President Trump[‘s] slogan is KKK principle.”
As for tweet’s mention of “articles about how white people ‘shouldn’t exist,’” that was referring to a 2017 article in the school paper, The University Star, arguing for the death of “whiteness.”
To be fair, the university president called out the piece, titled “Your DNA Is an Abomination,” as being “racist” and “abhorrent.”
As for the test: “This quiz is simply based on the information from PolitiFact to see if they could read an article and understand what it is saying. All I want them to do [is] be able to use fact-checking sources to determine for themselves what is true and what is not true in a film that is a biopic,” Bell-Metereau told The University Star.
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The PolitiFact article on “BlacKkKlansman” does indeed note that one of the Klansmen from Colorado Springs said this was a “principle” of the Klan’s. He’s far from right, of course, and the slogan has been used many times before and after by a wide variety of people and politicians. That said, it’s a line Lee draws pretty explicitly in the film — although Bell-Metereau’s reasons for including the question were debatable at that point.
They became less debatable when audio emerged of the professor discussing the film in her class.
The one-minute recording says Trump “never did any distancing from white power” and touches on Miller, the White House adviser whose emails in his role as former Sen. Jeff Sessions’ communications director have come under scrutiny of late.
Bell-Metereau concluded that “we have a problem” in the White House.
In response to the audio, the professor complained that it “was recorded without my permission, which violates copyright, since my lectures are my intellectual property.”
It’s interesting that someone who teaches film isn’t familiar with fair use.
She might have had better luck pointing out that such recordings could be against Texas State University student code, according to The College Fix, although the president of the College Republicans there says he “has not been made aware” of any such violations. I wish her godspeed in trying to enforce that copyright violation and/or trying to formulate a worse response to the leaked audio, though.
Bell-Metereau did, however, confirm that “it is my voice and I made the [c]omment about Stephen Miller that his online materials include a number of white nationalist and white supremacist posts. Given that Miller is a senior White House advisor to the president, I commented that this is a problem for our nation.”
That doesn’t seem to be quite the point here. Instead, it’s that there’s a classroom environment where there’s clearly an animus toward conservative students, especially those who support the president.
That’s nothing new on college campuses, mind you, given the leanings of academia. However, when you’re dealing with the KKK and equating it with garden-variety conservatives, one would hope professors would tread carefully. One was hoping too much in Bell-Metereau’s case.
Making sure to boldly underline Lee’s most controversial point in “BlacKkKlansman” — and, judging by the question, the audio and the professor’s response, I don’t exactly think any critique of that point was ever offered — is creating a hostile learning environment at a state school.
Your taxpayer dollars at work, conservatives.
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