Throwback to that time Eric Forman in That 70’s Show headed the Ku Klux Klan. What an episode that was.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman follows the true story of Detective Ron Stallworth, the first African-American to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department, who strategically worked to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of a seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman, as his undercover persona.
A complete return to form for controversial filmmaker, Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is a heavy drama with moments of levity, but for the most half is an intense, hard-hitting observation of racism in America, and to an extent, the wider world.
A culturally significant film that borders the line between a harrowing visualisation of a prejudice reality like 12 Years a Slave and a fascinating reflection of rich concepts on race like Get Out, BlacKkKlansman plays it cool through its difficult subject material. Styling itself with ease whilst still giving ample amount of time to preach its messages of sticking it to ‘The Man’, at its core, BlacKkKlansman utilises the insane events of the past to paint a painful vision of the present. BlacKkKlansman is unique where a film like 12 Years a Slave will almost exclusively operate in the confines of past events to tell a singular story with singular thematics and a film like Get Out will focus predominantly on nuance forms of racism within modernity, this film interweaves between the past, present and future, tying together all different time frames to dissect the vastness of such a dilemma as racism. Inspecting what defines political unrest, the film explores whether subtle action or forceful action is the key to issuing change and fundamentally how significant a particular voice is towards progression or a general stalemate. Carefully creating a companion piece to his past works like Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X with Denzel Washington, Lee, now partnered with John David Washington (yes, coincidentally Denzel’s son), chases the shadows of America’s past to poke holes in the troubled political and social landscape of America today. So basically what I am trying to say is BlacKkKlansman is a beefier feature length version of Childish Gambino’s ‘This Is America’ music video from earlier in the year. That’s good sh*t.
From an opening colourised crane shot of the set of the 1939 film Gone With the Wind to the Klan’s celebration of the 1915 silent epic drama, The Birth of a Nation, Lee makes an effort to truly plunge his audience into a state of discomfort from the constant romanticising of unjust events like the American Civil War in art. Opened by a fowl unnamed race theorist’s speech on the spread of integration, BlacKkKlansman pulls out all the stops to make it’s audience squirm. I honestly felt sick for a strong amount of this film – and if I were to tell Spike Lee just that, I reckon he would be so heavily proud. The thing is BlacKkKlansman is not meant to be romanticised like Gone With the Wind or rewritten by the victors like The Birth of a Nation; BlacKkKlansman insists its audience know the truth and nothing but the truth. I was sick, because I knew, all this was (and is) the ugly truth behind American history.
Scary to think, as well, how much American history then influences the world around us, and how Lee spotlights the stark impression art makes on society to be detrimental to progression. Art may be an artist’s take on reality, but art is also an escape from reality. So when the majority of cinematic art we receive is from America, and American artists then reflect the reality they choose, we as the consumers escape to the reality we are presented and are therefore blinded by lies or enlightened by the truth. Movies like The Birth of a Nation blind us whereas films such as BlacKkKlansman enlighten us, influencing our progression as a global society. And for that reason alone, I believe BlacKkKlansman is another important milestone in this growing category of nuance and creative American filmmaking, where African-American directed films like Get Out, Black Panther and Sorry To Bother You truly do justice to the ‘Black experience’.
As for the more technical attributes of the film, the overall style and appearance of BlacKkKlansman is truly suave and colourful, ingrained in a 70’s aesthetic that remains pleasing to the eye. Washington, along with his on-screen romantic interest portrayed by Laura Harrier, both shine in the cast, handling too heavy and meaty roles with ease. A clear standout to me however was Adam Driver who’s inability to give a bad performance continues to be an undeniable truth, as Driver really galvanises whenever present on screen. Topher Grace, too, is comedically and uncomfortably on point in his picture perfect depiction of Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, with the rest of the Klan’s members all equally appealing to both a threatening and disgusting persona whilst also embodying an almost ‘every man’ attitude to their horrific actions.
BlacKkKlansman may be tense and unrelenting at times, but never does it completely drop audiences into an uncompromising drama. The film does gift audiences with a fair share of comedy that assists in padding out its dark subject matter into a light affair for most of its run time. In fact, a lot of the film’s comedy is it’s best material with a specifc highlight being the insane conversations held between Ron Stallworth and David Duke.
Some sequences do stretch out for a bit too long and truthfully I was not a huge fan of the movie’s ending. A series of real life clips plague the conclusion of BlacKkKlansman to show the never-ending violence against African-Americans in modern times; yet despite these images being horrifying to watch, I felt their inclusion to be too preachy and too in your face. There is a time and place for real life footage and for the majority of the time, that place is called a documentary, however throwing the footage at the end of a thematically rich piece like BlacKkKlansman almost obliterates the metaphorical intrigue of the entire film. It’s a small gripe I have with the production, but hey, I’m meant to say what I did and didn’t like right? I mean, I am a critic… its kind of my job.
When the sun sets though, BlacKkKlansman is an impressive return to greatness for Spike Lee. An important film with a lot to say, BlacKkKlansman reveals to us racial tension still exists, because, well… this is America.
BlacKkKlansman is, in fact… LOST ART.
- Gravillis Inc. 2018, BlacKkKlansman (2018), IMP Awards, TMDb, viewed 21 August 2018, http://www.impawards.com/2018/blackkklansman.html (Featured Image)
- Malkin, M 2018, How the Stars of ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Got Into Characters: Watching ‘Soul Train’ and a Walk Through Brooklyn, Variety, WordPress.com VIP, viewed 21 August 2018, https://variety.com/2018/film/news/how-the-stars-of-blackkklansman-got-into-character-a-walk-in-brooklyn-and-soul-train-spike-lee-1202902848/