BLACKKKLANSMAN (Directed by Spike Lee, 135 minutes, USA, 2018)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC BlacKkKlansman is the real-life story of how the first African American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan. Starring John David Washington (son of Denzel) as Ron and Adam Driver as his partner, BlacKkKlansman proves to be one of Spike Lee’ most ferocious social commentaries to date cleverly disguised as a hilarious buddy cop movie. Lee uses the very relevant narrative to comment both on the backsliding of race relations in America and how it wasn’t exactly an accident that we got back here in the first place.
Set in the early ‘70s, at the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, the film introduces us to Ron (Washington), an ambitious young rookie who is first tasked with infiltrating the Black Power movement. When he realizes the movement isn’t peopled with the kind of violent radicals his superiors sent him to find and instead encounters a group of embattled minorities struggling for equality he cold calls the Klu Klux Klan after seeing an ad in the paper recruiting new members. Using a phone demeanor that would impress the bosses of the call center in Sorry To Bother You, Ron sets up a meeting with the local chapter of the KKK and uses seasoned Detective Flip Zimmerman (Driver) as the real-life incarnation of his racist caricature. Thanks to Ron’s gift of gab on the phone with David Duke, he quickly moves up the ranks in the KKK and in no time is nominated as chapter president. The investigation begins to attract some unwanted attention when they uncover not only the Klan’s ties to the military, but their plan to impress Duke on his visit to Colorado Springs.
Due in no small part to the daily horrors of the Trump presidency, Lee seems to have recaptured that spark that gave us the kind of scathingly frank commentary coupled with an intimate African American perspective invocative of Do the Right Thing. The director pulls no punches as the film ends with a grim montage illustrating how the KKK’s cycle of racism continues even to this day, ending with the Tiki torch-wielding Nazis descending on Charlottesville. This is the serious message Lee wants to impress on an audience in search of a light buddy cop comedy. Still, BlacKkKlansman is not simply a political statement, it is a funny and thought-provoking film that captures both the ugliness of hate and dogged beauty of the struggle for equality.