Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Hate never truly disappears no matter how progressive we believe our society has become. These forms of hate began for the dumbest of reasons and still fester today even through generations of relatively more acceptance. We fail when we get complacent, which Spike Lee refuses to let us do. With BlackKklansman, he not only shares a crazy police operation into the Klu Klux Klan but also a stern reminder that even when relatively dormant, racism still very much exists.
Starting out as a young detective at a police precinct, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) calls a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan pretending to be a white man to infiltrate their organization. With the partnership of his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) they learn about a planned attack by the racist organization.
The story of this operation continues to baffle me with how it progressed in such a manner where this organization seeking to celebrate the “superior” race got duped by someone they see as inhuman. A situation of truth being stranger than fiction, as the premise feels like it should be a Saturday Night Live sketch but it actually happened. Nevertheless, BlackKklansman speaks on a variety of ideas through its subject matter and characters, which does not surprise me with Spike Lee putting it together.
Ron Stallworth finds himself at an impasse in this film, where he becomes one of the only black officers in this precinct, and when given an undercover assignment, he’s asked to spy on a recent black empowerment group meeting. Being given this first assignment says plenty about the precinct seeing they felt spying on a group of African-Americans felt more pressing to investigate rather than keeping tabs on an organization known for its brutally violent tendencies. It takes Stallworth to get on the phone and kickstart his own investigation into the Klu Klux Klan, and even then he faced plenty of resistance. Stallworth begins an uphill battle, which only gets worse when he begins dating one of the black activists, who speaks out on police brutality. There’s a dual identity Stallworth carries with him of being black and a police officer. No matter what he does he’ll be seen as a rebel by his co-workers and a sell-out by his community.
John David Washington splashes onto the scene portraying Ron Stallworth, carrying all of the charisma he inherited from his father, Denzel. Amid all of the absurd behavior all of the racists exhibit, he presents a calm figure for the story. When everything goes haywire, he always remains the anchor to keep things plausible, which leads to one of the major talking points of the story. The way Spike Lee portrays these racists makes them look like bumbling idiots, who cannot seem to get out of their own way. In a way, Lee mocks these members by showing anyone willing to don the white sheets and proclaim to be genetically superior because of the color of their skin must not be intelligent. I agree with that idea, but the downside of making them look so stupid runs the risk of making them comedic sideshow characters. We laugh at them because of their stupidity, but it should not overlook the real pain and damage they cause others through their hateful tactics, something Spike Lee gives a forceful reminder of with the epilogue of the feature. The loudest exclamation point to the end of a sentence I’ve seen, which only continues to demonstrate the importance of Lee’s voice in these times.
He remains unafraid of calling things out for what they truly represent and his brute style of filmmaking will never leave you wondering his stance on any issue. His lack of subtlety has become his brand, which he handles much better than others. As controversial as the subject matter may be, Spike knows how to contextualize it and thus creates such tremendous and hard-hitting features in the process. BlackKklansman continues his excellence in showing racism very much exists even when we believe them to be dormant or naively eradicated. It’s a fabric of this nation and he brings forth the parallels from 1972 to 2017, as not much has changed.
Additionally, I loved the inclusion of other media injected into the film to emphasize their place in this racist society. Namely Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation. Two pioneering films lauded for their technological advances to the world of film even with them having deeply racist ideologies. While Birth of a Nation straight up paints the Klu Klux Klan as the heroes of its story, Gone with the Wind laces racism through its entire plot. Their place in the annals of film history disgusts me to this day and Spike Lee putting them as something celebrated and worshipped by racist and violent monsters shows the true legacy of those films.
BlackKklansman tells a strong detective story willing to expose the criminal actions by a hateful group and does so by injecting humor and severity to the story. It becomes another welcomed entry by a powerful and vital voice in the art world, along with giving John David Washington the opportunity to display his star potential. Kick in some great 70s music and a tremendous score and you receive a film that serves as entertainment but also a painful reminder.