It’s been 31 years since Spike Lee first came to the Cannes Film Festival with “She’s Gotta Have It,” but the rebel yell that that film represented still rumbles at the back of his throat.
He is here this year with a subject no less unsettling: “Rodney King,” a filmed version of a performance piece by the amazing Roger Guenveur Smith, who also wrote it. The film amounts to an hour-long tone poem, a kind of trancelike recitation of the life and death of the man who was videotaped being beaten near to death by Los Angeles police officers and survived to tell the world to “just get along.”
Where we are, of course, is the inescapable reality of continual police shootings or other assaults on African-Americans who have posed no serious threat to them. And the invective that has been loosed by the era of Donald Trump, whom Lee refers to as “Agent Orange.”
“I wake up every day thinking he has the nuclear football,” said Lee. “This is real.” So what is Lee’s path given the country current state? “I gotta do the best I can,” the filmmaker said. “Be about goodness and truth. Not trying to give easy answers.”