Few filmmakers are able to capture the tragedy of racism and its place in America’s modern history, but Spike Lee has done just that. Lee delivers a powerful rebuke with BlackkKlansman and gives an emotional plea against hate. In the end, the audience is left with a side-by-side comparison of this nation’s past and present and to contemplate their place and responsibility in society.
BlackkKlansman, a Spike Lee joint, is a story based on the true events and experiences of Ron Stallworth, a former Colorado Springs police officer. He was the first African-American to serve in the Colorado Springs department and, while there, he came up with a way to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). He did so by phone and when he needed to show up in person, a white officer would take his place and assume his name.
Stallworth would eventually make contact with David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK and present-day advocate of white supremacy. Pulling the wool over Duke’s eyes would be essential to Stallworth’s operation.
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and the white officer, Phillip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), make for a fun duo. They rely on each other to get the job done and to mitigate the activity of the KKK in Colorado Springs. By going undercover, they pull back the curtain on the ugly, contemptuous attitudes brought on by the fears of white men.
There are funny moments and lines within this movie. The soundtrack, which includes a previously unreleased Prince song, is smooth and harkens back to when this story is set to take place.
But it’s also a very serious film, with a very serious message. In the story, Zimmerman has his own self-reflection. It turns out that he is Jewish, but he wasn’t raised in the religion. Making his way into the Klan forces him to question his identity and cultural heritage. Stallworth is also portrayed as a straight-faced man of the law who has to reconcile his job with his own identity, especially since racism is prevalent within the police force.
Throughout the film, the audience hears and sees statements such as, “White Power,” and, “America First.” It is unfortunate that these ideas are still being propagated today.
BlackkKlansman releases in theaters across the country just in time for the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, which took the life of Heather Heyer, who was struck by a car after it plowed through a crowd of people. A dedication is made to her. The footage of this attack is shown, along with scenes of rioting and alt-right demonstrators chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” as they parade with torches. Donald Trump’s statements about the rally, which generated great controversy and criticism, are also included.
It may just be that this is Spike Lee’s most important film to date, as it has the potential to influence people to commit to making positive actions and being allies for each other. But the people who need to see this film the most, those who lack understanding and empathy, are not likely to make the time for it.