When composer Terence Blanchard first heard the plot of “BlacKkKlansman” he “didn’t think it was a real story. I kept thinking, wow, this is a great piece of fiction.” But when director Spike Lee informed his longtime collaborator that the tale of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), an African-American police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s, was indeed true, Blanchard thought, “this has to be one of the most courageous people on the planet. A rookie cop, with a high level of integrity, who decided to take on such a task, was just an amazing thing.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Blanchard above.
Blanchard’s jazz-infused musical stylings have been a major part of Lee’s films almost since the beginning of Lee’s career. He played trumpet in “School Daze” (1987) and “Do the Right Thing” (1989) before writing additional music for “Mo Better Blue” (1990). Then he went on to compose the scores for nearly all of the director’s subsequent films, including “Jungle Fever” (1991), “Malcolm X” (1992) and “25th Hour” (2002), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.
After three decades of collaborations Blanchard doesn’t need to ponder what sort of musical identity Lee wants for his films. “He’s not a guy who loves underscore,” he explains. “His use of music is more narrative than anything.” For instance, “if you look at some of the … action-packed scenes [in “BlacKkKlansman“], there’s no action music there. It’s more melodic.”
In his work, Blanchard “hoped to capture something that was more poignant,” that would “represent the emotional content of most people that I knew growing up in that period of time. I’m a product of the ’70s as well, and I remember those years. I remember thinking to myself, we all just want to be treated equally. So that was the emotional drive behind what I had written in the score.”
That message is driven home by the film’s shattering climax, which uses footage from the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, to show how the racism of the era is still prevalent today. “It’s one of those things only Spike can do,” says Blanchard. The veteran musician has always felt “blessed and honored” to work with Lee because “he’s not afraid of tackling some tough issues. He’s not shy about it. He will delve right in and try to get people to be aware, educate themselves, and create some open dialogue about these topics.”
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