A meditation on race in late-twentieth century America, the film's power comes from Lee's ability to avoid taking sides. He missed nabbing an award that year — something that would continue to happen again and again, over the years, not only at Cannes, but at the Oscars as well.
Twenty-nine years later, Lee's new film, BlacKkKLansman, premiered at Cannes to a ten-minute ovation from the audience. This time, the filmmaker garnered the festival's second-place prize. The buzz surrounding the film held that the movie represented a return to form for Lee, whose prodigious gifts have faltered over the last decade. But while BlacKkKLansman proves, in some regards, more entertaining than Do the Right Thing, it is a far less powerful work of art.
BlacKkKLansman is a genre film — a buddy-cop movie, specifically — with a message. Set in the '70s, rookie detective (and the only black cop on the Colorado Springs police force) Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrates a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan over the phone by pretending to be white. He partners with a Jewish detective, Flip Zimmerman, (Adam Driver) who, posing as the bigot Stallworth created, stands-in for him in face-to-face meetings.