Spike Lee is renowned for not pulling any punches and with his new film, he certainly hit the target again. BlacKkKlansman is so far the most powerful cinematographic statement of the Trump era, a movie that exposes the stranger-than-fiction “fo’ real fo’ real shit”—as Lee puts it—which has defined America’s history and culture for centuries.
The witty satirical thriller is set in the 1970s and it is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs police force who successfully infiltrated local Ku Klux Klan with the help of Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish veteran police officer.
After being moved from the records to the intelligence department, the idealist, wanna-be-hero Stallworth—wonderfully played by John David Washington and his glorious afro—casually answers a KKK newspaper ad and begins a surreal telephone correspondence with the head of the local KKK organisation, Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), who wants to put “America first” and to make it “great again”—sounds familiar?—by infiltrating the local politics. Zimmerman, diligently played by the Star Wars’ star Adam Driver, becomes Stallworth’s real life undercover alias, attending meeting, rallies and officially becoming a member of the clan.
The film is a history lesson built on clashes and paradoxes which draw a line between past and present, from beginning to end. Opening with the flying confederate flag from the famous Gone with the wind scene and extracts from The Birth of a Nation by DW Griffith (the 1915 movie and KKK bulwark that Lee was shown by his professors as a young MFA film student for its cinematographic innovation) the director moves onto the beautiful glowing faces of black college students at a Black Power rally as they listen to the activist Kwame Ture (played by Corey Hawkins) talking about the impact of cinema on black culture, e.g. Tarzan, the white king of the jungle. At that rally, Ron Stallworth meets the female protagonist of BlacKkKlansman, the president of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas, played by a fierce Laura Harrier, and as their relationship develops, Spike Lee takes a chance to shed light on 1970s black filmography milestones such as Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy etc.
As a matter of fact, the pedagogical audacity of this film is undeniable, as well as the paradoxical juxtapositions which emphasise the evident continuum in the instances of past and modern America: institutionalised white power versus DIY black power, the fight for freedom and equality versus self-entitlement, good cops versus bad ones. These are the central elements which inevitably trigger a journey of self-discovery for the two main characters. On the one hand, Ron Stallworth experiences the twofold condition of being a “pig” (term used by both KKK members and Black Panthers to refer to cops) who has a strong sense of justice and wants to make a difference from within the system, and being a proud black citizen who experiences racist abuse by fellow police officers on a daily basis. On the other hand, Flip Zimmerman, who had always rejected his Jewish heritage, starts reflecting upon his on identity and eventually embraces it as he is forced to spend time with the KKK.
Receiving a standing ovation at its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival last May, BlacKkKlansman is a bold, must watch film, from the compelling narrative, to the melancholic soundtrack, to the epic costumes, to the dramatic ending: a black and white upside down american flag which appears after the footage of the 2017 white supremacist rally and the subsequent car attack in Charlottesville.
With BlacKkKlansman and its motto “all power to all the people” Spike Lee wants to provoke the audience, exposing the corrupt system that has protected the subversive KKK movement through the years, and to push the discourse around race which America seems to finally have started. And certainly, he couldn’t have chosen a better person to produce and co-create the movie with than Jordan Peele, the actor, director and author whose racially twisted Get Out left a mark.
Watch the movie, spread the word and if you wish to find out more about this incredible story, read the book that Ron Stallworth wrote himself, Black Klansman (2014).
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