One of the most talked about aspects of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is the ending which touches on the events in Charlottesville a year ago. Considering that the film makes numerous references to modern day, and specially how the hate the Ku Klux Klan has spouted for years is now deeply embedded in the political landscape, it is interesting that the ending has hit people the way it has. In many ways it just reinforces the point Lee has been making for most of his career, people are not paying attention to the world they live in.
I guess that is why the film, for me at least, felt more like sitting in a history class where I had already read the items on the syllabus prior to the lecture. Very little of the content surprised me, but that did not mean there wasn’t plenty to enjoy. BlacKkKlansman once again reaffirms that Lee is one of most technically proficient and misunderstood directors working today. While there was a deafening silence during the Charlottesville scenes, for me it was the juxtaposition of Jerome Turner’s (Harry Belafonte) speech to black university students, in which he recounts a lynching and the devasting legacy of the film The Birth of a Nation on America, with the swearing in ceremony for new Klan members that proved to be the most impactful moment of the film.
Based on a true story, the film recounts how Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police officer from Colorado, successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan after answering an advertisement in the paper. Stallworth spearheaded an undercover investigation which involved him handling all the over the phone conversations and his white surrogate, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), doing all the face to face meetings with the organization. The ruse was so successful that Stallworth eventually found himself in frequent conversation with David Duke (Topher Grace), the Grand Wizard of the Klan at the time, who claimed to have an ear for distinguishing someone’s race.
Aside from the way it links history to the present, BlacKkKlansman raises some interesting questions about the cost of denying one’s heritage and whether it is possible to change a flawed system like the police force from the inside out. Equally darkly funny and timely Lee wants to evoke discussion; and use the film itself as an antidote for the illness that D. W. Griffith’s blockbuster The Birth of a Nation has left on society.
While many of the female characters feel underwritten, there is much to enjoy and take away from the film. Reminding the audience that cinema can play a big role in social change, and empowering African-Americans to believe in their own power and beauty, Spike Lee’s film is a call to action. A unifying cry to unmask and eradicate the depths of hate within America, regardless of what political hood it may be hiding under.