Black KKKlansman

The thing that struck me the most about this movie was how funny it was. Believe me, the political commentary and comparisons to our current political climate were not lost on me, but it was amazing how frequently Spike Lee was able to find laughs in this very serious topic. The idea of the movie itself is hilarious, even more so when you remember that it is all based on real people. Infiltrating the KKK as a black man is literally a Chappelle’s Show skit, except they did it in real life! In a way, it’s almost something Spike Lee would come up with as a movie idea, which makes him the perfect director.

The execution of the movie was fantastic too. Lee has such a distinctive style to his directing, especially with his ability to implicitly reference other works throughout his movies. He used the same type of shot from Malcolm X when Ron and Patrice are walking down the hallway. This reminds viewers of Lee’s other movies so they can better understand them in that context. Having John David Washington and Adam Driver play the leads is also an amazing choice; they are two of the most dynamic actors in Hollywood right now. It also carries symbolic value; Washington is the son of Denzel Washington, who played Malcolm X in Lee’s 1992 film of the same name. There is some generational symbolism in this film, as Washington-as-Stallworth must have his own awakening just as Washington-as-Malcolm did as well.

I do quibble with some of the historical accuracies in this film. Of course, movies have to include action and intrigue, but the facts don’t often line up. Flip was not Jewish, nor was there ever an actual bomb. I am willing to accept these details as part of making a movie, but the film is so adamant about being based on a true story. I wish Lee would take a bit more responsibility for altering details.

My final point is this: I’m not sure this movie is well-received in 2020. Why? Cops are the heroes. This movie mentions the complicity of police in mistreatment of black people, but it does not properly acknowledge the complicity of police in far-right, racist, xenophobic, fascist organizations. Systemic racism is not individual groups; systemic racism is racism within the system of law and law enforcement that governs our land. Two years after this movie came out, we are seeing that police are clearly part of the problem. Were they the heroes in this case? Sure, but I think that is an exception, not the rule.

4 comments

  1. I understand that there were liberties taken with the film, but I think making Stallworth’s partner Jewish was important to add to the political messaging of the movie. It conveyed the blind hate of the klan, but it also allowed the white audiences to consider what a changed mind would look like. Many white people have stood by and let the klan do what they wanted, because it’s “easier that way”. But adding in the Jewish partner allowed a potentially skeptical white person to watch the journey of a man creating a conviction, one that is actively against the klan rather than just “not a part of the klan.”

  2. Policing in the United States has been predatory against Black people for a long-time and I think that is one of the reasons we get so many scenes with Patrice and Ron discussing policing. Ron obviously grapples with wanting to be a detective with being a black man that is also harassed by the same police force that he works for. It’s a highly contentious topic right now about how to fix or get rid of the police force in this country and I think this was Spike Lee’s way of sparking a slight discussion of it.

  3. Your point about actors having their own awakening from playing such charged roles is important and something I have definitely thought about as well. After all, good acting is all about taking on and embodying the role and both Washingtons definitely took that seriously. I also wondered about how the film would be received in 2020- besides the fact movie theaters are not really a thing right now. I watched this movie with my family in 2019 so a while after it was released. I feel like the people who would choose to watch this movie now in 2020 are coming into the movie with a certain view about policing so Blackkklansman would probably reinforce those views.

  4. I actually had no idea that John David Washington is Denzel Washington’s son – that added a really interesting layer to Spike Lee’s creative process and how the movie becomes, as you said, generational symbolism. It reiterates the fact that racism was a problem when he directed Malcolm X in 1992, and it’s still a problem in 2018 (and today). I do also think it’s interesting to think about how this movie would be accepted in 2020, and how current events color what the film is trying to say.

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