Quick Hit: Fiercely entertaining critique of culture from all sides, unafraid to reach out and smack you in your face.
BlacKkKlansman contains two extended clips of movies. The first opens the film, and is a clip from Gone with the Wind, referring to the Confederacy. The second is Birth of a Nation. There are also several references to other films that lie within the Blaxploitation genre, like Shaft. These small glimmers of the larger world are probably the most subtle of touches that director Spike Lee uses in his hammer of a film presenting Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado during the 1970s.
Ron does this by sampling answering an ad in a newspaper after attending a rally where he listens to Kwame Ture speak, while undercover. Ron is the first black police officer in his department, which is met with casual racism by some members of the department and shrugs by others. He’s looking for a way to get out of the records room, and the opportunity does so. After successfully impersonating a white man on the phone, he gets an interview. Obviously since he can’t go, he needs someone to act as himself – and gets that in fellow undercover officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). Flip attends, and we begin to dive into the world of the KKK.
Here is what I think is one of the parts of the film I was most confused about. Lee spends a LOT of the movies run time exploring the nuances of the different members of the KKK chapter. This is just an aspiration for leadership for some; others have more of a zealous drive for destruction. But almost all of them are presented as redneck or dumb, outside of the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (Topher Grace). I think Lee missed the mark here a bit – while a lot of these characterizations are accurate, particularly in light of the different videos that have come out over the past year or so, the men that we get to spend so much time with still seem a bit like cartoons. The laughs that come out of this are fairly cheap. However, I will acknowledge the complexity of portraying this group without coming across as sympathetic to them.
Adam Driver and John David Washington are fascinating to watch, as both struggle with identity issues. Stallworth is attempting to be a black cop in a totally white precinct, and is dating a woman who consistently calls cops pigs. Zimmerman has to reject his Jewish heritage, which in a harrowing scene he admits hasn’t carried a lot of weight since the rituals of his childhood. But he has to verbally confront the Holocaust in a scene where he must take a “Jew lie detector test”. Both men have to dive into what make them themselves, and how much their racial identity plays into that. It’s the best part of a good movie, and it’s no wonder that Driver is up for Supporting (though how Washington missed out is just due to the limited number of seats at the table I guess).
Lee ends the movie with giving us video of the race riots that occurred in 2017 in Charlottesville. It’s an open call to action and spurns the current President of the US for his comments after saying that there were bad people on both sides. A young woman lost her life that day, and it was a tragedy. America will hopefully always be the land of free speech, but I can’t wait for the day where we get not just fewer, but none of the racist speeches. I’m giving BlacKkKlansman an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"