John David Washington: ‘America Is Not America for Anyone Unless It’s America for Everyone’
WASHINGTON – John David Washington, who stars in the new Spike Lee movie BlacKkKlansman, said the “cycle of hate keeps turning” in the country but “America is not America for anyone unless it’s America for everyone.”
“Dismantling the mechanisms of hate, ensuring justice and opportunity for everyone matters just as much today if not more because those words you hear that the Klansmen use in the movie, the same words Ron [Stallworth] used to infiltrate them, are still being used today,” said Washington, son of Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington, when accepting the Trendsetter award at the Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference last week.
In the film, Washington plays Stallworth, who was the first African-American officer at the Colorado Springs, Colo., police department and infiltrated the local KKK in the 1970s.
“People are still standing around their barbecues in their respective homes talking like this. They are still passing the language of hate and the habit of hate down to their children. It’s still reflecting back into the lives of black children. It’s still infecting our institutions,” he said. “How can we stop this vicious cycle? What can we do to evolve as a people, as a country, as a world?”
Washington cited a “critical scene” in the film in which his character Stallworth asks colleague Flip Zimmerman, “Why you acting like you ain't got skin in the game, brother?”
“We all have skin in this game and I think that is really the message of this film. The old saying ‘those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it’ comes to mind, and that’s why Spike used some very recent footage of America today at the end of the film. It includes some clips of the real David Duke still out there doing his thing and also some clips of the current occupant of the Oval Office and some of his supporters,” Washington said at the ceremony.
“The footage shows how the cycle of hate keeps turning in this country and the danger we are all in if we don’t break that vicious cycle. America is not America for anyone unless it’s America for everyone. We need to do more than demand it. We need to work for it as a community; that’s what the Congressional Black Caucus is all about,” he added.
PJM asked Washington if there’s a course of action he would like to see viewers take after watching the movie, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
“Hopefully, a positive reversal course of action of hatred and racism and bigotry, and that’s going to take the community to achieve such a thing. It’s going to take everybody that doesn’t look like me, that doesn’t look like you, but everybody that looks like all of us,” said Washington, who stars in the HBO series Ballers with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “You know, I feel like this film, sort of in a very entertaining way, puts in the forefront hatred and what it sounds like, the vernacular of hate, the lexicon of hate, which has been generational. It’s been taught in this country and hopefully people will be inspired to at least start the conversation.”
When asked to describe a specific issue he is most concerned about with regard to President Trump’s record, Washington said, “Just how divisive some of these words are that have been used both then and now, and hatred stems from insecurity. And so we’ve got to be able to now look to the youths, to the younger people, to try to reverse this and find a common language to be able to communicate. We don’t have to necessarily like each other all the time, but find a language of co-existence to where we can live and work and make some money together.”
Laurence Fishburne, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement award, compared the Nixon era to President Trump’s time in the White House so far in his first term. The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1971 while late President Richard Nixon was in office.
“You think about where [CBC founding members] were. Nixon was the president and Watergate was on the horizon. He would soon resign. And you can’t ignore how similar what happened then is to what’s happening now. So, you know, with some prayer and some visualization and perhaps some luck maybe [Trump] will resign,” Fishburne said.