Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by the real Ron Stallworth, co-written and directed by Spike Lee (She Gotta Have It), and co-produced by Jordan Peele (Get Out), BlacKkKlansman offers an insight at race relations in America today in 2018 and back in the 1970s, and from an earlier time. In the thick of the 1970s Civil Rights Movement, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was made the first Black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Set on proving himself to the department, he goes about infiltrating the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan, convincing his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to act as a White supremacist.
Much alike what Quentin Tarantino did with Django Unchained, BlacKkKlansman uses humour with a serious backdrop. Many viewers took issue with both of these films simply for that reason. However, I believe it naive to think that just because racism hangs in the air, every person would be a racist / there wouldn’t be good times too. And both of these films are laugh-out-loud hilarious. BlacKkKlansman is the funniest film I have seen in 2018 (even with Game Night). It’s an unchaste matter of race, in the same vain as films like Mississippi Burning (1988) and Pinky (1949), with well-paced action and dialogue that reminded me of Heat (1995), and it’s a joy to watch indeed.
This film is as dark as it is funny, showing that the KKK weren’t exclusively anti-Black. “The so-called chosen people, you’ve been passing for a wasp, White, Anglo-Saxon protestant…” begins Stallworth, to Zimmerman. “It’s what some light-skinned Black folks do. They pass for White (Imitation of Life, Pinky), why you been acting like you ain’t got skin in the game?” These exchanges between Zimmerman and Stallworth are littered throughout the film and they add the seriousness I was talking about, to counteract the film’s comedy. What’s more Adam Driver (Silence) as is truly brilliant and I’d love to see him nominated for an Oscar this year. Alas.
As the film opens up, we are witness to the famous scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is among the thousands of wounded soldiers, the camera panning up to catch the Confederate flag. Not long after that, we are in 1974 with “Re-Elected Nixon” signs and then introduced to the Klan, as well as office-based racism at the local police station, police brutality and the Black Student Union at Colorado College. We meet Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), President of the BSU. Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) features, showing me what a capable actor he is. “All power to all the people” Patrice says, and that’s a life code fo’ sure!
Anti-Semite, White supremacist, White nationalist and Holocaust denier David Duke is also in the film, played superbly well by Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3) but it’s Walter that scared me – subtle, calm, softly spoken, played by Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist). The supporting cast are just as good as the main cast. Washington, Harrier and Driver aside, the guys who played the Klan chapter in addition Corey Hawkins as Kwame Ture and Alec Baldwin’s five minutes, don’t to put a foot wrong. Spike Lee, like he did with Do the Right Thing, shows those won’t look to the past for lessons are doomed to repeat it, with the added footage from other films in the slaughterhouse we call history.
Starting with Gone with the Wind (1939) and then D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), Lee lambastes the tropes of “classic” Blaxploitation films, going into the small-print of the Jesse Washington Murder, ending with a montage of ‘Unite the Right’ in Charlottesville. From the 13th Amendment to the Race Relations Act; from slave codes to Jim Crow Laws; from Trayvon Martin to Stephen Lawrence; from Compton to Grenfell, I didn’t interpret BlacKkKlansman as social comment for only America. Blaxploitation is universal. Two billion Black people on Earth. This film shows how things have changed, or how they haven’t. They’ve just changed forms.
With excellent performances, a potent social commentary and a soundtrack to kill, BlacKkKlansman is the only film I’ve seen this year to get five stars, it just exhumes brilliance.