Directed by Spike Lee.
Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Alec Baldwin, Laura Harrier, Ken Garito, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Michael Buscemi, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Topher Grace, Paul Walter Hauser, Ryan Eggold and Jasper Pääkkönen.
Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman works damn hard to join Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You and Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting in their emboldened cinematic fights against modern-day oppression. Three movies steeped in separate frustrations. Dirty societal mirrors that sit audiences down, demand attention and make every single word hang in neon writing. Spike’s megaphone is aimed at injustice as it now affects an entire nation, but yes, specifically how dangerous white-power rhetoric once asked – nay, demanded – that “America comes first.” A time when things were “great.” Do we really want to make America “great” again if that’s the definition being pursued? Spike educates on the dangers of history repeating itself by empowering truths of past and present – a rallying wake-the-fuck-up cry in our time of need.
John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, the “Jackie Robinson” of Colorado Springs’ police force (first African American). He’s ambitious, determined, and wants out of the Records Room. Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) bumps Rom up to Intelligence, where he phones the Ku Klux Klan on a whim given their digits are advertised publicly – and he schedules a meeting. Only problem? Well, like, the most obvious problem? He’s not “pure white” like the Aryan brotherhood. This is where Jewish-born Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) comes in, providing the face of Ron Stallworth (rookie forgot to give a fake name). Ron and Flip make one believable race-hatin’ KKK initiate as their investigation leads them straight to Grand Wizard/National Director David Duke (Topher Grace). African American on the phone, Jewish American in the flesh.
Sweet, decadent irony.
The deeply-rooted political implications of BlacKkKlansman are unmissable. If you can’t decipher Ron’s astonishment when scoffing at how the American public could elect someone as perversely outspoken as David Duke president (wondered aloud, met with “wake up”), Spike is sure to close with a sledgehammer’s drop. Graphic images replayed by television news channels, uncut for maximum comparison. North Carolina patio-torch rallies, Nazi symbolism, and the remembrance of Heather Heyer who was killed by a vigilante motorist as she protested against the very hate that stole her from this world. Spike ensures that while we may be watching a movie – an often entertaining, masterfully dumbfounding behind-enemy-lines takedown – the stakes are real. Spike’s message is real. Ron’s conflicts are real. One last time, Spike reminds us that BlacKkKlansman is not *just* a movie. It’s based on some “fo’ real, fo’ real shit” as an opening title card assures.
Centered around the tagline “Infiltrate Hate,” BlacKkKlansman is Spike’s fearless answering of a powerful call so unflinching and unwilling to compromise. Ron, an African American male trying to romance rebellious college activist Patrice (Laura Harrier), is seen as a “traitor.” Not “down” with the movement. Speaker Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) warns his audience that a revolution is coming – to arm themselves – but Ron argues his undercover standing is *just* as impactful. Patrice keeps using “pig” slang because, in her mind, one racist murderer cop means they’re all racist murderers. Ron not only challenges and denounces her base generalization, but proves that sacrificial outrage isn’t the *only* option. Spike doesn’t need to show warfare scenarios or irresponsible outrage beats to fake importance. By working together, hate can be conquered.
Except, Patrice never changes her tune. Attacks continue. Ron accomplishes great strides to scrub Colorado Springs clean, but for what? Patrice’s boots-on-the-ground gusto bursts from the agony of being cyclically failed. Spike weighs both approaches from an anxious place of, “Well, what *does* work?”
Ignore not an alarming air of history repeating itself. Author and officer Ron Stallworth – the *real* Ron Stallworth who *actually* duped David Duke’s ranks – channels today’s political climate by simply recalling old facts. Decades later. At a pivotal moment of on-screen achievement, when Ron’s probe suffers a lapse, all the work done to prevent cross-burnings and keep the KKK sedated is met by an *immediate* flaming fixture. The minute Ron’s stonewalled, the second KKK members have a chance, it’s *right* back to the same intolerance. Once again, I visit Spike’s jump-cut to 2017, and how *actual* David Duke is filmed referencing the almighty words of Donald Trump as a sign of better comings. After watching BlacKkKlansman, after witnessing first-hand a KKK devotee cuddling his wife in bed as they trade smiles over talk of eradicating Jews and [insert any slur for African American, this movie has ‘em all], it’s a moment of speechless horror. There is a means to ends, and that’s infiltrating the hate – but Spike knows how to prevent intended impact from getting lost in “entertainment.”
John David Washington gives a career-making role as Ron Stallworth, a man fluent both in King’s English and soul swagger who can work both sides of mounting racial tensions. His methods are smooth, confident and brimming with personal gratification given how not even David Duke can tell he’s talking to a “subhuman” (that final conversation, *chef’s kiss*). Washington’s able to navigate light reprises of comedy – Flip and Ron channeling their “inner black man” – and hefty weights of being apprehended by uniformed lawmen who don’t believe his undercover street clothes are a guise. An actor drawing on the experiences that have haunted generations of African Americans, still able to reign his character’s ability to infiltrate, not instigate. The prolific level-headedness of Ron Stallworth is not lost on John David Washington, nor are the more absurd details that he sells with a beaming grin.
Adam Driver’s evolution of Flip is important to track because, at the beginning, he’s just another Caucasian man. When Ron asks Flip to embody Ron Stallworth, there’s a moment of hesitation as the Jewish American confesses he doesn’t want to get killed over someone else’s fight. KKK representatives were angrier about African Americans speaking out – but once Flip starts having to brush off holocaust denouncements and Jewish slurs face-to-face, he realizes that hate doesn’t stop with one single target. The color of Flip’s skin granted him relative safe passage, but his Star of David necklace tells a different story. Driver’s realization of how this isn’t one single man or peoples’ fight proves how the actor keeps landing high-profile roles. Just another dimension Spike massages.
Topher Grace as David Duke is a massively successful match, as much as Paul Walter Hauser playing KKK chapter buffoon Ivanhoe or Jasper Pääkkönen playing psychopathic, kill-’em-all, loose cannon Felix. Grace’s command of hate speech in such a soft, inviting voice paints cult hypnotization of those willing to be corrupted. Ryan Eggold as Walter leads his local KKK chapter without violence, not to suggest sympathy, but instead prove how it’s not enough to just hope the least predictable members don’t go rogue. All of these actors so convincing in their despicable characteristics, and all weaponized so tragically by Spike’s allowance of extreme prejudice. What we need to see, what we need to hear.
If it takes a movie to open someone’s eyes, awaken them to struggles outside their isolated bubble, it’s BlacKkKlansman. Spike Lee doesn’t hold every answer, but masterfully honors one man’s righteous crusade – that *might* be worth the slightest modicum of hope – with two meaningful words: “Infiltrate Hate.” You’ll get references to Shaft (plus bass-heavy background grooves), feel-good moral victories and an unbelievable espionage debunking in the most unexpected frame – but Spike’s not here to distract you with fiction. Infections spread. People are afraid. They have every right to be. BlacKkKlansman is ferociously directed by a man on a mission who’s operating well above we’ve seen as of late. Power-punchy, maximum attitude and unsatisfied with anything but absolute honesty for those who need to hear it most. There’s being “in the zone,” and then there’s “Spike Lee’s work on BlacKkKlansman.”
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).