“BlacKkKlansman”, the latest film from acclaimed and controversial director Spike Lee, is deeply uncomfortable to watch, which is exactly the point.
Anyone familiar with Lee’s work knows that he tends to focus on race relation as a theme, and “BlacKkKlansman” is no exception for obvious reasons.
The film focuses on a fictionalized version of real-life events that took place in Colorado Springs circa 1979. John David Washington plays Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in the city, and becomes a member of the intelligence division. He contacts the Ku Klux Klan through telephone after seeing an ad they had taken out in the paper, introducing himself as a white man who has an interest in joining.
Stallworth recruits his white and Jewish coworker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to pose as him and infiltrate the Klan in his place. The narrative drips with tension as the Klansmen gear up for cross-burnings, making idle chatter about terrorist attacks they could pull off. All the while, the threat of being found out hangs over Stallworth, Zimmerman and the investigation.
BlacKkKlansman is now playing in theaters.
In any other context, this might seem like some heavy stuff, and there are scenes that are intensely uncomfortable to watch. The film is carried by intelligent writing, excellent cinematography and a score that sets the tone perfectly in the style of Blaxploitation films from the ’70s.
There were brilliant performances, from both the Klan members and the good guys. The film has a sense of humor, poking fun at the racists’ malformed belief systems while not straying away from how genuinely horrendous the things they say and do are.
White supremacy is an ideology followed by people who have great potential to become radicalized. This film argues that it is easy to dilute racism’s presence in America by portraying it as so ignorant that it might become humorous. While “BlacKkKlansman” revels in the jokes, found at the expense of bigots, it also shines a light on how truly dangerous these people can be.
To drive this point home, Lee makes several parallels to recent real-world events. Actor Topher Grace gives a face to David Duke, the formal grand wizard of the KKK, who was involved in the events portrayed and is still a major player in white nationalist circles. Familiar phrases to those who have followed modern politics crop up and the film ends on an all-too-real note, leaving a packed theatre silent.
By virtue of being set in Colorado, another distressing layer reveals itself in that nearly 40 years after the events of the film, hatred is still living here. The Southern Poverty Law Center found in 2018 that there are 21 separate hate groups operating in Colorado, including the KKK.
Additionally, slavery is still technically legal in Colorado after a ballot measure failed to pass in 2016. A new amendment proposing the same prohibition on involuntary service will be on the ballot this year.
Should you see it: Yes.
“BlacKkKlansman” is a thought-provoking film that I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in the state of race relations both in the 1970s and in the modern day. Reading the book by Stallworth, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime,” on which the film is based, is better for a truer, non-Hollywood story.
Although the overlying message that racism is bad certainly seems like a no-brainer, seeing the onscreen connections to contemporary America creates and imparts a belief that these obvious statements must be made once more.
Collegian reporter Graham Shapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @shapleygraham.