BlacKkKlansman - 2018
Director(s): Spike Lee
Writer(s): Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee (screenplay) / Ron Stallworth (book)
Cinematography by: Chayse Irvin
Editor(s): Barry Alexander Brown
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Michael Buscemi, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Topher Grace, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Alec Baldwin
As the marketing campaign will have you know, this movie is “Based on a crazy, outrageous, incredible true story!”. Even if it wasn’t, Spike Lee holds up a mirror to our society and forces us to stare into every single imperfection we’ve had and currently have, making you feel uneasy for laughing along the way. After BlacKkKlansman took Cannes by storm back in May I’ve been looking forward to watching it. Walking out, I can say the wait was worth it. Let’s talk about it.
The story centers around Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black police officer of the Colorado Springs police department. The Jackie Robinson of local law enforcement. He quickly moves up the ladder and finds himself as an undercover police officer surveying the black student union of the Colorado College. While reading the paper he finds an ad promoting the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and he naturally calls in. He pretends to be a pure white man looking for other pure white men that hate anybody who is not a pure white man. This leads to an undercover operation in where Stallworth maintains contact through the phone and Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) meets with the klan in person.
While the movie boasts the signature visual style of Spike Lee we have come to expect, it is one of his most subdued “joints” he has delivered in a long time. Lee lets the story and the events be the focal points of the movie, trying his best to not get in the way of the message behind it. I loved the blaxploitation aesthetic cinematographer Cahyse Irvin gave the movie as it walks the tight rope of parody and homage. One of my favorite sequences is when Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), a former Black Panther, is delivering a speech for the black student union wherein he describes the beauty of the natural features of a black person. The way they intercut the faces of union members, showcasing the different features commonly mocked or hated by the racist society they lived in, was simply a great way to empower the audience watching it.
Quick note: I found myself laughing during moments that, if presented in real life, I would simply be outraged by them. More than once I thought to myself after finishing laughing, “F**k…”.
Yes, the movie’s main theme is a sobering look at racism and how it really hasn’t changed since the 70’s, especially now that being openly racist is the new “cool trend”. But the running theme I gravitated towards the most was how group mentality is showcased on both sides of the coin. We see how the black student union cheers on as Ture declares that they should be killing racist cops, we see good cops protecting their “bad apples” because they are brothers in arms and we see how the wife of a klan member gets swept up in their rhetoric. Group mentality occurs when a crowd of people, usually thinking that they are doing the right thing, conform in such a way that leads to dysfunctional or irrational behavior. It’s important to see it showcased for all involved in the story.
Quick note: John David Washington and Adam Driver are incredible in their roles and had palpable chemistry between them.
BlacKkKlansman is a tension-filled ride with scattered moments of levity and dark humor to let the audience breathe long enough to get to the next uncomfortable truth showcased about our society. Lee uses an incredible true story that helps to highlight the fact that, despite the years in between the events depicted and today, our society is still riddled with the same type of mentality portrayed throughout the movie. With stunning visuals, solid acting and pitch perfect editing, it’s hard to not say that this movie will be in the zeitgeist for years to come. Spike Lee is why I love movies.
BlacKkKlansman is currently playing in theaters. Hard but necessary watch.
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