This weekend marks the one-year anniversary since a deadly white- nationalist rally overtook Charlottesville, Virginia, and ignited a modern race war in its wake. It’s also the same weekend Spike Lee will release his new film BlacKkKlansman. That timing is intentional, given the film’s historic parallels and its use of footage of the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed in the Charlottesville clash. In a new interview with Time, Lee recalls how he responded to the news of the rally and reveals he was the first person to inform Barack Obama of the event.
At the time, Lee was at his house in Martha’s Vineyard where Obama plays golf nearby. The morning Heyer was killed, Lee says he was “glued to the television” but stepped away to his backyard, where coincidentally the 18th hole of the golf course Obama frequents is located. He spotted the Secret Service and made his way over to the former president to break the news: “I said, Mr. President, did you hear what happened in Charlottesville? He hadn’t. I could see on his face — that shock. It was Aug. 12, year of our Lord, 2017.”
Obama’s tweet about Charlottesville, quoting Nelson Mandela, then became the most-liked in Twitter’s history at the time. Lee says the events of Charlottesville also inspired the ending of his new movie because he “saw this horrific act of homegrown, red, white and blue, cherry-pie terrorism.” He also called Heyer’s mother to ask for permission to include her daughter in the film, telling her, “I consider [Heyer] a martyr. It don’t matter what nobody else says.”