BlacKkKlansman Offers Sharp Commentary

Adam Driver stars as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKLansman, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

While the film is set in the early 1970s, BlacKkKlansman isn’t shy when it comes to its sharp satirical commentary.

All Ron Stallworth wanted to do since he was a child was to become a police officer.  Typically, this would not appear to be a problem for someone wishing to join the force.  There’s just one minor problem: he’s a person of color.  The question asked of him by Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) and a person portrayed by The Wire‘s Isaiah Whitlock, Jr..: is he ready to be the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs Police Department?

Stallworth is placed undercover when Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) is in town to deliver a speech.  It’s while undercover in which he meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Colorado College Black Student Union.  The speech is a stirring one, no doubt inspiring to those in attendance.  It’s what happens afterwards in which we learn that there are some bad apples within the police force.

It’s only when Stallworth is transferred from narcotics to the intelligence division when a newspaper ad sparks his interest.  You ever have a moment where the room gets silent enough to hear a pin drop?  That’s what happens next and the camera framing is so great in the scene.  Ron sees an ad for the local KKK chapter and picks up the phone.  When local chapter president Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) calls him back, he foolishly tells him his real name.  Moreover to the point, it also means that another person will have to act as him when they physically meet.  The job goes to Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).  I wouldn’t normally stress the religious label in this case but it’s important to the film.

You have a Jewish cop going undercover for another cop because the other cop is a person of color.  It wouldn’t be so crazy if they weren’t going to be infiltrating the KKK!  Both Ron and Flip are able to befriend those in the chapter, it doesn’t come without some suspicion on the part of Felix (Jaspar Pääkkönen).  Felix is a racist through and through.  While a guy like Walter is tame for a racist, Felix is the real deal.  He goes as far as threatening Ron–actually Flip–with a lie detector test because Felix thinks Ron might really be Jewish.  He denies the Holocaust happened and still manages to get the numbers wrong!

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that BlacKkKlansman pokes fun at then-Grand Wizard (cough national director cough) David Duke (Topher Grace).  Duke is so impressed with his calls with Ron that he leaves the comforts of Louisiana just to meet this guy who really loves the idea of a White America.  You can’t help but want to laugh during their calls.  Duke tells Ron that people like him need to be in public office “for America to achieve its greatness again.”

When Duke does finally come to town, the police assign Stallworth as his special detail.  That’s right.  The sole person of color in the police gets assigned to protect one of the most racist men in America.  Just look at the eye on Duke’s face when he learns about it!

It’s the early 1970s and you get someone like Ron Stallworth saying, “America would never elect someone like David Duke as president.”  Yet years later, you have a guy running for office espousing the same type of hateful rhetoric.  Not only does that guy win his party’s nomination but gets elected president.  Moreover, when asked about Duke, he refuses to condemn the man.  Never mind the comments that he said regarding the action taking place in Charlottesville in August 2017.

On that note, it’s criminal that a film about racism made me laugh so much.  Again, this is a testament to how sharp the satire is in the newest film from Spike Lee.  The screenplay, based on Ron Stallworth’s book, isn’t shy to comment on modern-day activities even though it’s set when Richard Nixon is running for re-election.  We see this alone in the Charlottesville footage at the end of the film.

The choice to include the Charlottesville footage is a bold one.  This film was already going to be one of the best films of the year regardless of that footage.  The footage serves as a reminder that the hatred hasn’t gone away.

Even though it was honored by the American Film Institute, I’ve never watched a minute of Birth of a Nation.  A lot of this is because of the film is so racist that it gave a rebirth to the KKK.  This changed when clips of the film are shown as KKK members watch a screening.  I saw enough of the film to know that I’ll never watch in its entirety.

Through its biting satire, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman dares to remind us that we are no stranger to the hatred in the present day.

DIRECTOR:  Spike Lee
SCREENWRITERS:  Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee
CAST:  John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Jaspar Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson

Following the world premiere at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Focus Features will open BlacKkKlansman on August 10, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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