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Spike Lee in Finland: Right-wing extremism is a global problem

The acclaimed US film director visited Helsinki at the invitation of Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen, who appears in Lee's latest film "BlacKkKlansman".

Spike Lee
Spike Lee wore iconic rings from his movie "Do the Right Thing" at Cannes 2018. Image: UPI Media
Yle News

US film director Spike Lee arrived in Helsinki directly from the Milano Film Festival on Saturday. In the space of a day, he agreed to hold a master class on his breakthrough film "Do the Right Thing" at the Love & Anarchy Film Festival, to visit moviegoers at a showing of his new film "BlacKkKlansman", and to sit for an exclusive interview with the public broadcaster Yle.

A trip to Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen's Löyly restaurant and public sauna was also on the schedule.

"I came here because I had promised Jasper that I would. Too bad I've only got one day. I've had saunas before, but I only learned today that it is a Finnish word," he said.

Lee praised Pääkkönen's acting chops; adding that he is planning to work with the young Finn again.

"He is a phenomenal actor and a great guy. We have been friends from the moment we met, and that's not going away. There will be more movies with Jasper, but I can't talk about them now because I don't know what they will be," the director said.

Pääkkönen plays a Ku Klux Klansman in the film. After its debut in Cannes in May, many declared "BlacKkKlansman" to be the director's best film in years.

Some things haven't changed in 40 years

Based on a book by Ron Stallworth, "BlacKkKlansman" tells the true story of the first black police officer in 1979 Colorado Springs, who infiltrated the local wing of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado, duping even the Grand Wizard David Duke himself.

The movie closes with the real-life events of August 2017, when a protest against a neo-Nazi/white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia turned into murder after a 20-year old Nazi sympathizer ran his car through the crowd.

"Many people at Cannes imagined that BlacKkKlansman is about America's problems, but no, no, no. Italy has Matteo Salvini, France has the Le Pens, and there's Brexit. And the Finns have that guy that Jasper told me about, but I forgot his name," Lee said.

He repeated himself to drive home his point.

"This is a global problem, not just the United States of America. Although I will admit that we do it better than anyone else," Lee said.

The director said the solution is to always choose love over hate.

"In various parts of the world, we've seen this rise of the right. The one common, obvious thing is they've built their base railing against and pointing their finger at immigrants. There's this fear that if we don't build walls and close our ports, they are going to take over. The word is hate. It's very simple: the word is hate," he said.

More home-grown terrorists than Muslim terrorists

Spike Lee teaches film directing at New York University.

"I always tell my students on the first day that there is no one right way of doing anything," he said.

Lee said that whenever a well-known African-American travels abroad, he or she is expected to speak on behalf of all black people in America. He said that in a way, he understands it because the situation in the US right now keeps him awake at night.

"The Charlottesville footage in the film is Exhibit A of home-grown, apple pie, red-white-and-blue terrorism. The Klan and the alt-right and the neo-Nazis are terrorist groups. Americans commit more terrorist acts than Muslim groups. Hardly a day goes by without some kind of mass shooting incident," Lee said.

The political message of "BlacKkKlansman" is clear, and it has given rise to some criticism in the US. Lee is by no means apologetic:

"The American president has the launch codes for our nuclear weapons. Who knows what he and Putin have going on? In my opinion, this is no time to be subtle. We are on the verge; we are on the brink."

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