Spike Lee is back doing what only he can do – bringing racial issues to the forefront and making everyone feel safe and uncomfortable at the same time.
BlacKkKlansman is the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African American detective, who infiltrated and became a member of the KKK. He catfished David Duke before catfishing was a thing. It stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, Adam Driver as Ron’s white avatar, Flip Zimmerman, and Topher Grace as David Duke.
I don’t know when Spike Lee got his hands on this project. The real-life Ron Stallworth said, in an AOL Build interview, that this past year was the only time BlacKkKlansman could have been made. An imperfect storm had to boil up for this one to have any impact, unfortunately. It‘s clear there was an urgency to get this one made and to market.
The Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was August 11, 2017. Production for BlacKkKlansman started in October 2017. It hit my radar in November 2017, when one of my favorite berserker Vikings, Jasper Paakkonen, was cast as a zealot white supremacist. In an era where filming, post production and distribution can take years, BlacKkKlansman debuted at Cannes in May 2018. And it will open in America, exactly 365 days after Charlottesville – where one woman and two police officers were killed and 35 others were injured. It is a fitting reminder and memorial.
This urgency and necessity shows in the final product. During the movie I found myself wishing it was a Netflix series. It’s enthralling, but I wanted to see certain ideas developed and made tangible. It feels quickly brushed onto canvas and unfinished. There’s a nagging lack of continuity in the portrayal of the decade. Are we in the 1960’s, 70’s or 80’s? I now realize, this “error” amplifies the film’s message.
The “lack of continuity” I felt is heightened by imagery from “Gone with the Wind,” 1915’s “Birth of a Nation,” and current footage from Charlottesville. The film compresses our history into one unsettling moment. And it leaves the audience right where the issue has been for over 240 years – unsettled.
BlackKklansman doesn’t place blame or explain motives. It just relates a true story. It would have been easy to stereotype the KKK as ignorant rednecks or turn Ron Stallworth’s alter ego into a Wayans’ caricature of Carlton Banks. But Lee doesn’t go that far. He made a movie about regular people and serious issues. It has funny moments, but it’s deadly serious most of the time.
The most fascinating theme for me is the idea of masking oneself. It’s subtle. Does Ron Stallworth ever change his voice to sound white? At some points it is obvious, at other times you can’t tell. Ron Stallworth’s boss suggests Ron disguise his true identity with overt “jive talk” when he has to be in David Duke’s presence. I won’t give away what happens.
It’s a subtle point that when ignorance is involved, people don’t have to hide their voice over the phone, or their faces with a white hood. People see and hear what they want to see and hear. Now we have the internet to change our voice and hide our faces. Hatred has a new mask and delivery system all in one.
This is a must-see film for our day. I hope a version is made for teens to discuss in schools. As much as Hamilton has turned kids on to history, BlacKkKlansman will open the discussion on racism. There is strong racial language, gun violence, and graphic footage from Charlottesville that was not allowed on news. If that all worries you, then you live a sheltered life, and you absolutely need this film.
Catch BlacKkKlansman in theaters August 10th.
Photo Credit: David Lee / Focus Features