“BlacKkKlansman,” Spike Lee’s newest epic, has every aspect of the typical crime drama: a malevolent villain, impending danger, a dramatic action sequence and an unlikely hero who saves the day.
Unlike its common themes, “BlacKkKlansman” brings new elements. The villain is white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan and danger comes in the form of racist terror; the unlikely hero is a young, black detective.
The film is based on the book “Black Klansman” by Ron Stallworth, which tells the real-life story of how he infiltrated the KKK early in his career as a police officer.
With the help of some unapologetic afros, flared trousers, rotary telephones and killer jams, Lee teleports his audience back in time to the early 1970s to see the story play out before their very eyes.
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), upon joining the Colorado Springs Police Department and becoming the first African-American officer on the force, lacks a sense of belonging. To his fellow officers, he’s too black; they degrade him and place him on office-duty, where he spends his time pulling case files. When promoted to the role of detective, Stallworth views the job as a means of proving himself and gaining respect.
While flipping through the newspaper one day, Stallworth finds a recruitment ad for the local chapter of the KKK. Stallworth calls the number on the ad and leaves a message, accidentally stating his real name and that he’s a white man who is interested in joining. Stallworth receives a call back almost immediately asking for him to meet up with the organization in person.
With the aid of white detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) posing as him in person, Stallworth begins an undercover investigation into the organization and continues conversations over the phone.
The majority of the movie focuses on how the pair of detectives try to win over the confidence of the KKK members. Stallworth eventually becomes a cardholding member of the KKK and is even asked to lead the chapter. He also has a few phone conversations with the Klan’s Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), who is hilariously oblivious.
Though light-hearted and comedic at times like its momentous dancing sequence to The Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose’s “Too Late to Turn Back Now,” the film also has its dark and disturbing moments that will linger in the minds of viewers long after its screen time expires.
The KKK members, although outwardly appearing average, have a raging hatred for black people bubbling just beneath their skin. Throughout the film, the N-word rolls off each of their tongues with no hesitation. They speak about people of color with an absolute disgust that is sadly all too familiar. Despite claiming to be non-violent, the members practice shooting at targets that resemble black children, burn crosses in order to terrorize others, send threatening letters and attempt to bomb the nearby Black Student Union. It’s up to Stallworth to thwart their wicked schemes.
The most wounding images of the film don’t come until just before the credits roll. Lee takes his audience back to modern America through a montage of Black Lives Matter protests and Trump campaign rhetoric, the light of tiki torches and the cries of “white power” at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 13, 2017. Then, the screen is filled by a crowd of counter protestors. We see them in the street before hearing the screeching tires of a gray Dodge Challenger as it speeds up. The car angrily plows through the crowd and reverses from the scene. Finally, an image of Heather Heyer, the 32 year-old killed by the car, appears on the screen. Below her name, the text reads “Rest in Power.”
“BlacKkKlansman” is a thrilling look at how a black police officer was really able to join the KKK and fool its members. The movie also serves as a reminder to its audience that racism is still alive and thriving in the U.S., as much as we would like to think otherwise. I think refusing to admit that there is a large presence of racism in modern culture facilitates the problem. Only when racism is acknowledged can anything be done to tackle it.
Edited by Siena DeBolt | firstname.lastname@example.org