Summary: Ron Stallworth infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. Ron Stallworth is Black.
Let it be known-I never give out As. Think I gave a few minuses and perhaps Moana get an A (it was an emotional A) but BlacKkKlansman really takes the cake. It’s really compelling to see a mainstream movie tackle a dividing subject, have such a strong message, and remind people of film’s power as a medium. Especially in a year where I think a lot of the industry has been revealed to have their heads up their asses, it was a really immersive and engaging experience to have a film speak directly to the social/political climate of today and the people who make up the audiences.
I’m not overfly familiar with Spike Lee- I’ve only seen 25th Hour and the Old Boy remake and from what I understand, those are not essential Spike Lee pieces- but I’m definitely interested in seeing more. Supposedly, this is his comeback but let’s be honest: did he ever really leave? I’ve always imagined Spike Lee to be one of those guys who works on things that he finds meaningful or wants to convey a certain message and I think the present state of our country and our politics has given him more than enough to say. BlacKkKlansman feels like the culmination of several years where Lee kept his mouth shut but was thinking, “Oh, okay. I see how it is” and “This fool over here” that finally boils over. Make all the TRIGGERED jokes you want- this is a reaction piece that comments on the consistent racial injustice and the failure of our internal and institutional systems.
Based on a true story, BlacKkKlansman revolves around Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), Colorado Springs’ first black police officer who is proclaimed as the posterboy for integration before getting the biggest opportunity to organize the station’s archives. Subject to overt racism from his own coworkers, Stallworth proposes a department switch, calls up the KKK and poses as a White Ron Stallworth who hates just about every single minoritized group in America. After being welcomed over the phone, he sends partner Flip (who is White and played by Adam Driver) to pose in his place and the two pull off an unusual, highly successful, and incredibly dangerous infiltration of the KKK.
It’s tense, it’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s eye-opening, it’s powerful- it’s an absolute roller coaster. While it is very much Stallworth’s individual, uphill battle, Lee doesn’t shy away from highlighting how everyone- White, Black, Jewish, etc- plays a part in systemic racism whether they choose to or not and the parts of the system that have endured into today. It’s hard not to be angry or to empathize with the during certain parts of the movie particularly during the incredible voiceover scenes, which aren’t just used as a mechanic to move things along and provide exposition but lend themselves to creating the vibrancy and emotional swells of each scene.
I’m not sure about specific parts that were fictionalized or added to the story- not to the point where it’s more “Hollywood” but there are definite points that had they gone unaddressed, the narrative would feel less complete. Lee added in a final scene where Stallworth tells off former Grand Wizard David Duke as to resolve this particular story- and it does feel good if we’re going to have a session of How History Should Have Happened.
However, Lee dials back any triumphant feeling this story might have by bookending the movie with events as recent as last year to remind us that some fights are still ongoing- and most will never end. He ends it on a particularly ballsy and poignant montage- my theater experience had the audience laughing (half out of shock, half out of “YES.”), some hoots, a round of applause, and then complete silence. If Lee’s endgame was to have people exit the theater not only questioning the world we now live in, but also their place in it, then I would consider this a highly successful piece of work.