BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Director: Spike Lee
Writer: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Based on: Ron Stallworth‘s memoir Black Klansman
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Robert John Burke, Brian Tarantina, Arthur J. Nascarella, Ken Garito, Frederick Weller, Michael Buscemi, Harry Belafonte, Gina Belafonte
Seen on: 21.8.2018

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) fought his way into the police force – and managed to become the first black police man in Colorado Springs. That doesn’t mean that his skills are particularly valued. But as Ron keeps pushing, he is assigned to go undercover to black power events like the talk by Kwame Ture. But Ron knows where the real threat lies: with the Ku Klux Klan. Making a couple of bold choices and forcing some hands, he ends up infiltrating the Klan via phone, sending his Jewish colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go to the meetings in person.

BlacKkKlansman is a strong film that makes its political point eloquently and forcefully. And it’s an important point to make – made by a good story.

The film poster showing a black man in a Ku Klux Klan mask, making a black power fist and holding up a comb.

I watched BlacKkKlansman right after Blindspotting which turned out to be a pretty successful double feature – and quite a double whammy of looking at racism in the USA. BlacKkKlansman takes the historic approach. Usually that means that people can pretend that racism is a thing of the past. Spike Lee instead makes sure that we don’t forget that racists, white supremacists, nazis – whatever you want to call them – only just killed somebody. In fact, they are constantly killing people.

He does that most prominently by ending the film with the footage of Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville – pretty much a punch in the gut. How well you can stomach seeing that footage (again) will vary wildly. I sure as hell would have liked a warning before seeing a person die, but at the same time I thought it was incredibly important to include the footage – to make sure that people see that there is a direct line from the racism of the past to the racism of today. It’s the same. Additionally, since the rest of the film takes joy in making fun of racism, the reminder of its dire consequences is also essential.

Laura Harrier and John David Washington in the film.

Lee has a firm handle on the film and its atmosphere, keeping it mostly light (well, until that end), but not without a note of the hard reality below that lightness. The soundtrack also does some heavy lifting and is fantastic. But I think I was most impressed by John David Washington. Given that he’s Denzel Washington’s son, I expected more nepotism and less talent, but he was really, really good. Not that the rest of the cast was bad, but they weren’t quite as outstanding.

All of this makes BlacKkKlansman a film that finds the joy in trolling racists while not forgetting that they are damn dangerous. It’s a difficult balance, but the manage it here.

Adam Driver and John David Washington in the film.

Summarizing: very good.

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