If the title “BlacKkKlansman” seems somewhat oxymoronic, that’s the point. Better yet, this movie is more than a one trick pony. Based on actual events, this important story centers on an undercover black cop who simultaneously infiltrated the KKK and a Black Power group. Interestingly, he found some similarities.
Director Spike Lee (“Mo Better Blues”) has been recognized as one of the most talented filmmakers in America. With a message as subtle as a two by four to the skull, he never pulls any punches. However, it was gratifying that this time; he also delivered a thoroughly entertaining movie for the mainstream audience.
Taking place in the early 70s, John David Washington (son of Denzel) stars as Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs. Assigned to the records department, Stallworth strives for a more significant position. Coincidentally, the department needs someone to infiltrate the rapidly rising Black Power movement and Stallworth is the only officer with the basic “credentials.”
At activist Stokely Carmichael’s (Corey Hawkins, “Straight Outta Compton”) rally, the eloquent Black Panther fans the flames of rage by painting vivid pictures of the long history of hate and prejudice against his people. Carmichael explains how so many Blacks have been “Shot down like dogs by white racists cops.”
In the process, Stallworth earns the confidence of the local movement leader, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), sporting an “Angela Davis ‘fro.” Harry Belafonte cameos as an eyewitness to the beastly lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916. Stallworth feels somewhat conflicted, troubled by the systematic persecution, but equally troubled by Laura calling the police “pigs” and insisting the department is a racist institution.
Director Lee’s point is to show how far apart we were as a nation with difficult issues to understand in the midst of so much anger and injustice. The movie begins with a fictional Dr. Kennebrew Bearegard (Alec Baldwin) showing the defeat of the South in “Gone With The Wind” (1939), “We may have lost the battle, but not the war!”
Dr. Bearegard details accounts of black inferiority and how they will stop at nothing to be viewed as equals. It is the white man’s responsibility to keep them in their place. When Stallworth sees an ad for the local KKK chapter, he calls the number and makes phone contact with Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold, TV’s “The Blacklist”), their leader.
With the help of fellow white officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), they meet the Klan. The audience is then introduced to what seems to be the entire cast of “Deliverance.” They trade long diatribes of hate-speak, where the “N-word” is the least offensive of the bunch, “We had a great life until that Martin Luther Koon came along.”
It gets interesting when David Duke (Topher Grace), KKK Grand Wizard, befriends Stallworth on the phone and decides to visit Colorado. Duke greets them as brothers in Christ, thanking God for true white men. He chants the KKK slogan from the ‘20s, “America First” and commits to “Get our Country Back.” Duke fights integration, the government and media but professes traditional Christian values. His plan has been to take his message mainstream with fear mongering issues that form political policy.
“BlacKkKlansman” is 135 minutes and rated R for language, including racial epithets, disturbing/violent material and sexual references. This movie is intense, disturbing and sometimes hard to watch because, after so many years, not much has changed. With so much progress, the film ends with last year’s Charlottesville rally; a full step backward.
Ron Stallworth wanted Denzel Washington to play the role but was ecstatic when they cast Denzel’s son. This film received a six-minute standing ovation in its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival while Spike Lee won their Grand Prix award. Serious discussions on this or any political topic today is impossible when people shout so loud, you can’t hear them.
Ron’s Rating: B Leigh’s Rating: C+