Director: Spike Lee
Written by: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Based on the Novel by: Ron Stallworth
Produced by: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Ray Mansflied, Jordan Peele, Spike Lee, Shaun Redick
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Laura Harrier, Ryan Eggold, Jaspar Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson.
Winner of the Grand Prix Award (Cannes Film Festival 2018)
Based on the true story written by Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman is set in 70s America where the Civil Rights movement of African-Americans’ fight against oppression.
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has just landed a job at the Colorado Springs Police Department as the first African-American detective where he has to tolerate fellow cops calling African-Americans’, Toads. To his face.
Asked to work undercover, Ron infiltrates The Black Student Alliance (AKA the Black Panthers), to bear witness to the words of Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) – a hint of the undercurrent and message of the film that unfolds under the careful direction of Spike Lee.
From the beginning, from the effect of showing words of film projected across the face of a Ku Klux Klan member (Alec Baldwin) as he’s making a propaganda film like so much red paint, like the words leave a curse of blood on his face; to the warmth of faces turned upwards in admiration of the words spoken by Kwame Ture at the Blank Panther rally, who wants the power to be fair and equal, to say black is beautiful; to say fuck the po-lice; to say, Boomshakalaka.
The audience is left in no doubt of the clear division between the white supremacists/KKK/general public and the African-Americans.
This is a political film.
Yet the depth of the divide leaves plenty for the ridiculous and funny.
I couldn’t help but be tickled by the idea of a black cop pretending to be a white supremacist, asking to join the KKK over the phone. To watch as the Klan’s Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace), is only too happy to help another member of the Klan, no not the Klan, the Organisation – and of course he’d be able to tell the difference if he was talking to a black man because they can’t pronounce their, ‘r’s’ properly?!
You can’t make this stuff up!
And there’s a cool vibe kicking with the funky-soul disco soundtrack (Terence Blanchard) and 70s red and orange outfits; the film embracing the times of the Mercury marauder, 70 Chrysler 300 and a well-shaped afro.
But there’s a strong undercurrent and message beneath the humour of this film; the rhetoric spewed by members of the Klan sounding all too familiar.
Ron’s partner in the infiltration of the Klan, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), is forced to deny being a Jew over and over when undercover. He admits to Ron his heritage is something he’s never thought about before. He’s always been just a white kid. And then to deny, deny, deny, he’s forced to lie under threat of death by the KKK – it’s all he can think about.
One could draw comparisons with the Denial of Peter.
The more I think about this film, the more there’s to be understood.
And the way Spike Lee has shown this layered true story, with eyes shining with warmth and conviction and others reflecting the hate of a burning cross, adds a distinctive visual layer drawing you in further.
Setting the film in the 70s lulls the mind into thinking all this hatred is something in our past, only to powerfully highlight this is a terror that continues in our present.
There’s a unique perspective and voice I feel like I haven’t heard before. Sure, we all know history: the lynching’s, the slavery, the segregation. But do we? Really?
Being born in Australia, I can see we have our own history to face. And our own present.
All I can ask is, are we going to let it happen again?
Re-counting the past from the lips of a survivor in the context of our present makes a powerful and thought-provoking film.
I feel like my eyes have been opened with a new understanding – the way the behaviour of racism looks on screen is so ridiculous it’s funny. And very, very scary.
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