Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman review:
‘BlackkKlansman’ is director Spike Lee’s take on a very bizarre and almost unbelievable story. Based on the book of the same name by the real-life undercover police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington in the film), Lee’s film depicts the efforts of a black policeman’s attempts to infiltrate the Colorado Springs branch of the Ku Klux Klan. Communicating with Klan members and former Grand Wizard David Duke over the phone, and sending a fellow white officer, played by Adam Driver, to build up trust with the group in person.
‘BlacKkKlansman’ works both as a comedy and a tense thriller with equal effectiveness. The fictional elements of the story blend exceptionally well into the real-life aspects. Often in films of this nature, such as last year’s ‘Darkest Hour’, the fictional scenes stand out from the rest of the film due to either poor writing or sheer preposterousness. Lee’s wonderful direction of the story is so engaging you don’t question any of the story’s more fantastical elements during its running time.
Historically speaking, the film is quite a good exercise in cultural and pop-cultural education. The role of the media in influencing hatred towards African-Americans is stressed upon throughout. During Alec Baldwin’s opening racist monologue, we are shown footage from D.W. Griffith’s repugnant 1915 epic ‘The Birth of a Nation’. The importance of this horrific film is mentioned in a crucial scene later on, along with more sequences from the film which are disgusting to say the least, but forgotten it should not be. Lee stresses upon the importance of depicting African-American’s negatively by showing us this footage, played over a monologue delivered by the great Harry Belafonte about the true story of Jesse Washington. I won’t reveal the particulars of that story, since it has to be heard to be believed and is arguably the most powerful and poignant moment in the film.
The film also makes references to the blaxploitation wave of the time, sighting well-known genre stars Pam Grier and Richard Roundtree and films ‘Superfly’ and ‘Shaft’.
The entire piece is taking an aggressive stab at the current political climate in America. The opening rant by Alec Baldwin’s Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard invokes images of another slicked-back haired and suit-wearing tyrant.
In one scene Stallworth and another officer discuss David Duke, and the possibility of him ending up in congress. Stallworth comments to his superior that ‘it could never happen’ … sound familiar?
It’s very on-the-nose stuff, and kind of beats the audience with its ideology, but as the Trump-poking scenes demonstrate, an overt and to-the-point approach in political filmmaking is probably what we all need in these times. However, nothing beats political filmmaking of this calibre. As someone who hasn’t been the biggest fan of Spike Lee in the past (‘Bamboozled’ being one of my least favourite viewing experiences), it’s always nice when a filmmaker presents you with something you can really love.
Special thanks to the Cuzon Cinema Sheffield for screening this film for Exposed.