Released: 16th August
Seen: 29th August
To say that we’re living in difficult times would be an understatement. We live in a time where being a racist is no longer an automatically disqualifying trait to hold public office, it’s no longer something we shun (If, indeed, we ever did). We used to seemingly be in agreement that if you were a racist, you could go straight to hell while the rest of us were going to try and go on and handle things without you. This was the pretty illusion that we decided to believe until recently and here comes BlacKkKlansman to remind us that not only did we not learn from our history, we’re repeating it.
BlacKkKlansman is based on the real story of Ron Stallworth (Played by John David Washington), a young black rookie police officer who works his way up to being in the intelligence division. One day he happens across an ad in the paper for the Ku Klux Klan and decides to call them and try to join. After arranging a meeting with the president of the local chapter, Walter Breachway (Played by Ryan Eggold) they realize there’s a slight problem… namely “We can’t actually send an African American man to meet with a member of the Klan”. So, to try and keep the investigation alive, they end up sending Detective Flip Zimmerman (Played by Adam Drive) who will pretend to be Ron Stallworth so they could try and find all the members of the Klan and just what they’re up too. This elaborate sting operation will take Ron and Flip deep into the world of the KKK and even bring them face to face with the grand dragon/wizard/whatever-weird-title-those-racists-come-up-with, David Duke (Played by Topher Grace).
This film has it’s work cut out for it because it’s trying to do two things at the same time. It’s trying to recreate a very interesting moment in history that a lot of people probably don’t know about, while also indicting the current political/racial climate. It doesn’t pull it’s punches, this film want’s you to see the connection between the secretive Klan of the 70’s and the open racism of today. Several moments of this film have some of the worst people imaginable reciting certain lines that sound like they were ripped right out of a presidential speech, there’s even a moment where the main characters discuss the possibility of someone like David Duke becoming president and it’s said in such a way that it almost should be followed by a look right into the camera (Something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Spike Lee joint). Much like Get Out last year, this film is laying it’s cards out there and calling out the racism of today. What makes it resonate so much more is that this is meant to be set 40 years ago, but so much of it feels shockingly relevant. Stories about black people being pulled over and harassed by racist cops? That went viral just last week. Racists intentionally going to harrass/harm people of color? I saw that video on youtube this morning. David Duke being taken seriously by anyone? HOW IS THAT STILL A THING!? This movie calls it all out and it does it expertly.
This might be some of the most creative film making I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot of stylism in the movie and it’s used perfectly to help with the story. A casual conversation about how African-Americans are portrayed in cinema is made a lot easier to follow when the posters for those films are thrown up on screen. The opening speech by Alec Baldwin (Playing Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard) is one of the most disturbing and fascinating monologues I’ve seen. It’s cut in such a way to show that his characters vile rhetoric is not just a perfect one take recitation of hatred but a carefully planned out bit of propraganda, enhanced by having Birth of a Nation projected on his face. This is the kind of film that will be dissected and studied for years to try and catch every little thing that Spike Lee masterfully worked in to enhance his story about how systemic racism is.
That’s the most brilliant part of this, and also the most expected element considering who made the film. Unlike other recent films that have tried to tackle racism *Coughcough* Three Billboards *Coughcough*, this film acknowledges that the issue isn’t just one or two bad eggs that can be healed if you punch them hard enough. It’s systemic, and that idea flows through the entire movie. Sure, the main characters might get info on the local chapter of the Klan but how are they going to deal with David Duke? What about the racist cop that they share a station with? Hell, one of the first things that Ron Stallworth is asked to do by his commanding officer is to go and spy on a speech by a prominent black activist because the cops are worried he might be up to something (Spoilers, he’s not. He’s just delivering another blistering monologue about racism). This film doesn’t shy away from the actual issues or pin them all on just one guy and I respect that.
I also respect the hell out of this amazing cast, some of whom have to play the worst people imaginable and make them human beings instead of cartoonishly evil. Don’t get me wrong, the klansmen are still evil, but they have layers to them so it’s actually possible to see them as just bad people instead of bad characters. Everything about the characters is compelling, you want the cops to succeed and the klan to fail and their strange interactions provide some great moments. They also have to be able to really sell the comedy of certain scenes, which isn’t easy when you’re playing evil. Things like a dinner scene with the local chapter of the klan is suddenly made hilarious when the wife of one of the klansmen walks in to offer everyone cheese and crackers. It’s the kind of movie that could only work if the characters involved felt like real people, and god damn they feel shockingly real.
The highlight of this film is the ending and I’m not spoiling anything, I will say that it’s a gut punch closer that Spike Lee builds up to with the expert ease that one would expect from such a seasoned veteran of film making. BlacKkKlansman is a film that strings you along with the promise of a true crime story, then smacks you in the face with harsh reality and you will be grateful that it did. It’s a genuine joy to watch, funny and powerful in ways that very few other’s are. So, in the spirit of this movie, let me end this review properly:-
Fuck the Klan.
Fuck David Duke.