Song of the Day #3,716: ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ – Prince

I hadn’t exactly written off Spike Lee as a relevant filmmaker, but it has been 12 years since Inside Man, the last “joint” of his I truly enjoyed. And that film was atypical for Lee, a pretty straight-forward heist film. You have to go back to 2002’s 25th Hour for something really meaty and thought-provoking.

In fairness, I missed 2015’s Chi-Raq, which divided critics but was generally regarded as a return to form for the filmmaker.

At any rate, you can reset the timer, because with BlacKkKlansman, Lee has delivered one of his best films yet and a movie that feels truly necessary right now.

Mostly sticking to the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Colorado cop who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 70s, but also diving into black identity, the societal impact of pop culture, and the emergence of Donald Trump, Lee serves up a messy but focused, harrowing but entertaining tour de force.

BlacKkKlansman has problems, but nothing that keeps it from being one of the best films of the year. Its highs are just too high.

Among those highs are some of the most memorable sequences in Lee’s filmography. My favorite is a rally by Kwame Ture at Colorado College’s Black Student Union, during which Kwame (played by an excellent Corey Hawkins) preaches about black pride and Lee shows a series of rapt, beautiful black faces in portrait.

The film’s centerpiece sequence crosscuts between a Klan ceremony and a civil rights pioneer’s account of the horrific 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington. It’s gut-wrenching, breathtaking cinema.

John David Washington (son of Denzel) does a fine, if a bit too subdued, job in the lead but for my money the film’s best performance is delivered by Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman, the cop who goes undercover with the Klan using Stallworth’s name. For most of the film, his character is the one in real danger and Driver is riveting in every anxious moment.

Lee has never been a subtle filmmaker, and some of his swipes at Trump (and Trumpism) feel forced. The film’s coda makes the Trump connection overt in a powerful way, especially given the movie’s release exactly one year after the deadly Charlottesville rally.

Will such an of-the-moment detour diminish BlacKkKlansman‘s long-term staying power? Obviously, Spike Lee doesn’t care, and god bless him for it. Is Do the Right Thing any less relevant today for name-checking Michael Stewart and Eleanor Bumpers, two black people killed by cops in the 80s? Hardly. I admire Lee’s fierce desire to tie his polemic to the current moment.

My slight issue with the ending is that, in order to set up a juxtaposition with the modern-day footage, Lee deliberately gives the main storyline a pat and goofily happy ending. It’s a playful jab aimed at masking the ugly right cross he’s about to deliver, and in that way it works well. But it doesn’t serve the characters in the principal narrative.

Still, few filmmakers can make a 40-year-old story resonate like last night’s news. Lee is the only artist I can imagine telling this funny, horrifying, and uniquely American story.

BlacKkKlansman is imperfect but exhilarating, like the country it both celebrates and indicts.

No, Mary, don’t you weep
Oh Mary, don’t you moan
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep
Oh, Martha, don’t you mourn
He’ll be home soon
Oh, Mary, yeah
Oh, Martha don’t you moan, yeah
He’ll be home soon
Oh, Mary, don’t you weep
Oh, Martha, don’t you moan

Oh Mary
Oh Mary
Oh Mary
I need
Martha, don’t you moan
I got a bad, bad feeling, baby, he ain’t coming home, no
I guess you know me well
I don’t like winter
But I seem to get a motherfuckin kick out of doing you wrong
Yeah, yeah
Mama, don’t you mourn
I got a bad, bad feeling your man ain’t coming home, yeah
I guess you know me well
I don’t like no snow
No winter
No cold
But Marry, yeah
Girl, you know I like your shhh, yeah
I got a bad bad feeling that your man ain’t coming home, yeah
Oh Martha, girl
You cooked the greatest son that’s in the world
Mary, Mary, don’t you mourn
I got that bad, bad feeling your man ain’t coming home, yeah
Home
Oh Martha, don’t you mourn

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,716: ‘Mary Don’t You Weep’ – Prince

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    I’m general,y onboard with your review, though I disagree that the main story line has a goofy happy ending. I loved that ending, which reflected a personal happiness of the characters juxtaposed with the very real never ending racial tension that would continue to be a part of their lives. The one criticism we did have was that there should have been some separation between that last scene and the news footage, even if it were just the title of the film put up as a buffer.

    • Clay says:

      I liked where the movie ended with Ron and Patrice (including the cross outside). I’m referring more to the resolution of the racist cop’s storyline and the general tone of the final scenes in the precinct.

      • Dana Gallup says:

        I really wasn’t bothered by that. I felt it was consistent with the tone of the movie, mixing humor with the grim reality of racism. The scenes in the precinct, including the final scenes, reflect the range of beliefs from unabashed racism to hidden racism to unconscious racism to enlightened non-racism. The humor used throughout but particularly in those last scenes put all of that on full display and then carried it forward to present day since the reality is that we still have that range of beliefs among us in every workplace in America.

  2. Peg Clifton says:

    Great analysis on this film! I loved the movie and was so pleased to see that my favorite actor’s son was the star 😊 oh I agree about Adam Driver. He was amazing!

  3. Maddie says:

    I heard that it was a pretty big change from the true story for Spike Lee to have the cop infiltrating the KKK being a Jewish man, and I’m so glad he made that choice. It really added to the stakes in a striking way and made parallels in a conversation where so many people refuse to acknowledge that any exist. Loved the performances in this movie and, like my mom, absolutely adored the dance scene after Odetta’s speech.

    • Amy says:

      Yes, that was a highlight that had me unexpectedly crying I was so deeply moved. I loved the film, though I, too, read criticism that suggested Lee modified several things to serve his narrative. Regardless, the narrative he provides is powerful and resonant. I just loved it!

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