Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansmen proved to be an extremely difficult film to watch. Not only was the language the KKK members used atrocious, but it felt like they were just saying things to say things at some point. It was clear these men had a lot of anger in their hearts for some reason, but none of it ever felt particularly “justified” or explained, you know? Also, I struggled to understand Ron as a character–why did he really want to become a cop in the first place? Why was he so ready and willing to put himself in harm’s way (working with the KKK) as soon as he got to the police station? I wish that could’ve been further explained as well.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie’s usage of past and present events but also foreshadowing others. For example, the scene where the Sergeant tells Ron that he believes one day the U.S. will vote someone into the Oval Office who supports the ideas that the KKK is spouting. We have seen exactly this today with Donald Trump. Additionally, I loved seeing the similar scenes that reflected many from Malcolm X, such as the close-up shots of black individuals’ faces as they were listening to inspiring words of leaders around them, the emphasis on the beginning and end of the films with past and present events in history that situate the film in the particular time period/political landscape, and the scenes in which the characters are moving towards the camera on some kind of treadmill (we only see their bodies gliding but nothing else) that preceded the most haunting scenes in both films.
I honestly feel like I have so much more to share on this film, but I think I need more time to process and understand everything I just watched. It was overwhelming in many ways for me, as a black woman, but also just as a human being, to watch parts of this film, but it was also revealing to see the ways in which power and our nation’s history affected and still continue to affect the country.
There is something to be said about Spike Lee. He is a great writer, producer, and director who is not afraid to get his hands dirty for his work. Movies such as Malcolm X and BlackKkKlansman are no different. They are great movies in their own right and offer a lot to the much-needed discussion about race in this country. Both films are based on historical events, and while they may be slightly hyperbolic in some scenes, they are still able to pass a message on to their audience that these movies exist for a reason. They exist to create discussions around the issues of race and how people historically ignored the plight of black people in the U.S.. In a Forbes interview in 2018, Spike Lee discussed the issue with him being called “controversial” and how people used that as a label to paint him in a negative light and potentially ignore his work. That is not to say he is not controversial; he has had public arguments against other prominent actors and directors, he’s been accused of being sexist and misogynistic against women, and he has even gotten into confrontations with President Trump. All of these can be things that would potentially push people away from Lee’s movies. I won’t lie, I personally was not a fan of Spike Lee prior to this class, as I saw him as someone willing to write movies for shock value. But it could be argued that he is someone necessary for us to look at and watch.
As I watched BlackKkKlansman, I could not help but think of the movie Detroit, which came out in 2017. The movie details a siege by the National Guard and Detroit Police Department on a motel where black patrons were forcefully interrogated, beaten, and even killed. This movie was also based on historical evidence but was ignored because it was 1) seen as potentially controversial and 2) did not have as “controversial” of a director behind it. – Kathryn Ann Bigelow is also a great director but does not have as much “stigma” behind her as Spike Lee does. – I think that the notoriety that Spike Lee has gives him the ability to tackle some of the complicated topics we have to consider in our own histories.
While I can offer praise for BlackKkKlansman, as it portrays issues with racism, police corruption, discrimination, and brutality, I also have to offer plenty of criticism. One of the reasons Spike Lee is often cited as being controversial is because of the political and racial portrays in some of his works. The ending to BlackKkKlansman is an example of one of those scenes that would get him labeled as such. It is generally understood that the Unite the Right Rally that took place in Charlottesville in 2017 showed that there is still racial disconnect and racism active in the United States, but I also think that Lee is trying to equate what happened in 2017 to what was happening in the 1970s. I understand that we are only 50 years separated from this timeframe, but we as a country have also made progress. Accusations of racism can end careers and put companies on high alert for their employees now. Every sector, from education to the corporate world has begun to focus on the need for diversity in their populations. I am not arguing that racism is over and fixed in this country, but I believe that Lee equating Charlottesville, a relatively unique event, to 1970s America is unfair, and downplays the progress that has been made in the last 50 years. There’s a reason President Trump keeps being asked to denounce white supremacy, not because it is the norm, but because his support would be an exception.
Where to begin! I definitely enjoyed BlacKkKansman, and I am shocked that, as Dr. Bezio mentioned in class, the film was originally marketed as a slapstick “buddy cop” comedy. Though moments were very funny, there were also plenty of scenes that made me sick to my stomach. From a formal standpoint, I also noticed many similarities between BlacKkKlansman and Malcolm X: both films included an extended dance scene toward the beginning, and both films ended with real-life footage. I also saw a clear connection between Ron’s “white” voice used on the phone with David Duke and the plot of the film Sorry to Bother You (which is a film I also love).
The film’s Colorado setting was also interesting to me, since it is not the geographic region I most closely associate with racism and the KKK in the US. It indicates, to me, that such extreme bigotry was and is not locked to one area of the country.
Though the film premiered in 2018, its central conflict of police reform from the inside feels, sadly, still extremely relevant to the discussion of defunding (or abolishing) the police in 2020. On one hand, the film draws many overt parallels between the police force and the KKK, and portrays disgusting acts of police violence against innocent back people such as the encounter with Patrice and Kwame Ture. Yet Ron himself seeks to prove his status as a “good cop” to Patrice. Can an institution rife with systemic racism actually be reformed? Patrice, in almost ending her relationship with Ron at the end of the movie, suggests that it cannot.
Lastly, I have some questions about the first shot of the film, during which a Civil War-era southern woman searches for her husband(?) among the fallen soldiers under the waving Confederate flag. Was this to show a romanticized view of the Confederacy? Is this a scene from racist film Birth of a Nation, which appears later in Lee’s film? And what does the class make of Alec Baldwin’s character in the intro? To me, it established strong ties between American racism and antisemitism at the outset of the film, yet I was a bit confused as to why this character never appears again.
BlacKkKlansman was a very powerful film. The extreme acts of white supremacy and language used throughout the film is shocking, and then once you realize there are people in the world who are actually like these white supremacists, it’s terrifying. So many moments in the film stuck out to me, but I thought the dynamic between Flip and Ron was at many times a source of what a positive relationship between white and black men can look like. Flip was constantly learning from Ron, and when Flip was for the first time exposed to discrimination as a white man for accusations of being Jewish, he talked to Ron about how for the first time he finds himself always thinking about his heritage and what it means to him. I found this to be a powerful moment because Flip was finally starting to get a small, small glimpse as a white man into what life is like for Ron as a black man in America.
This movie also touches on the idea of tokenism by hiring one black police officer to suddenly change the face of the police department. However, at the end of the movie much progress is clearly not even made within the system when we see Ron being mistaken for attacking Felix’s wife. When he repeatedly tries to explain that he is an undercover cop and attempts to show them his badge from his pocket he is continually beaten and held down. It’s only when Flip arrives and yells at the officers that they finally let Ron go. The scene showing the white supremacist police officer, Landers, pulling over Patrice and her friends was also an extremely disturbing example of the extremely broken and flawed policing system. Although Landers was caught and put in jail in the end, the audience is in no way satisfied. One person’s arrest doesn’t make up for years and years of oppression or the fact that the KKK and white supremacy is still very prevalent in our society today. This is shown through the 2017 clips of the Charlottesville riots at the end. While the film portrays this true story of an investigation that took place in 1978, it reemphasizes that real change has still not been made and justice is still a long ways away from being served to black Americans over 40 years later.
Before our assignment to watch this movie I had not heard of it and did not know what time period it was taking place in. The beginning scene with Alec Baldwin made me think that it was going to be set in the 40s perhaps, and then I realized that it was probably set in the 70s (the afros were a bit of a giveaway). However, while it was set in the 70s, there were several themes and comments that were eerily similar to the state of our nation right now. One of the biggest things that stuck out to me was that David Duke, the grand wizard of the klan, said the phrase “make America great again”, upon listening to this I instantly got the chills. In many instances I saw a lot of similarities between Trump and David Duke and especially was unsettled when they were discussing how David Duke had aspirations for political office so he would never publicly say that he hated jews or black people in an effort to save face. I think that these little pieces were intentional by Spike Lee as this film was released in the middle of the Trump presidency and is perhaps a commentary that we are closer to the 70s than many people imagine and the fight for civil rights is not over.
Everything sort of came full circle at the end when clips from Charlottesville in 2017 were released with both David Duke and Trumps voices over them, highlighting the fact that the idea of a white America is far from being dead. I think that Spike Lee and everyone involved in this film did a great job at emphasizing the fact that the fight is far from over and in some ways they sort of predicted what happened this summer and is far from being over.
“The BlacKkKlansman” has been and will always be one of my favorite films. Not only does it have an excellent screenplay, acting preformances, and directing, but the message throughout the film is strong and nailed into the viewer when paired with the video clips from Charlottesville. This is my fifth or sixth time watching this film and it was interesting to view it just after seeing “Malcolm X”. Both of these films are very telling of Spike Lee as a director and emphasize their own social justice initiatives. Although “BlacKkKlansman” took place in the 70’s the message of institutionalized racism still persists today. Lee does this by including footage from the Charlottesville Riots in 2017 in which white supremacists as well as klan members gathered in a public display of their beliefs . . . in 2017.
In my education class, we are currently discussing how American history is taught in schools. Traditionally, American history texts are written by white men and are rarely updated. They focus on main topics such as the Civil War, The Declaration of Independence, and skim over the Civil Rights era. After reflecting on these two films I think that it is crucial that as a nation that we work to revise how we teach the history of the United States. I believe that history should represent multiple perspectives and must evolve over time, this cannot be done through a textbook. Films like these help to educate the public and correct the history they may have been taught in school. I believe It is important that we continue to refine how history is taught and watch films like these in class as well as on our own time.
The kids didn’t show up today, therefore we could not meet during our normal 4:30 -5:15 time slot. However, I can comment on what we are currently doing as a group on the Stage and Screen class end right now. The four of us are currently working on the script for the play and fine tuning phrases that the kids have told us. We really want the script to reflect what the kids think, feel and say. We want the script to be something that feels more like a product of the children than of a group of college students. The kids have already started taking pictures for the play, and we are waiting to receive the photographs from the students. Then after receiving the photographs, our team can begin editing and placing emojis over their faces.
When watching BlacKkKlansman, admittedly, I had to pause halfway through to take a break and continue watching a bit later on. The intense racism depicted in the film, especially in the KKK meetings, was pretty sickening. This is history that is crucial to learn about, though it is hard. It is crazy to me that this is how extreme white supremacists think and behave, as this was my first time watching any movie that provides a depiction of the KKK. They truly believe that America, at its core, is white, and that is the only way for the country to succeed. However, America was not even originally white, it was stolen land! I was particularly disturbed by the scene where Topher Grace’s character chants “white power” after the KKK initiation and all of the black servers just stand in the back and witness it all. It was honestly unreal to watch.
That being said, the fact that I was so sickened by the behavior in the film just shows how incredible this movie, and the acting, really is. It does an amazing job telling the story and leaving it up to the viewers to see the many problems with white supremacy – it is almost laughable to watch the members of the KKK act like the victims of a black revolution, when all the black people are asking for is equal rights. There are so many elements of suspense in this film that it kept me on my toes the entire time, especially in the scenes where Flip slipped up in his character and the KKK members almost caught on to him and Ron’s plan. I was also enraged when watching the scene when Connie plants the bomb and Ron tackles her to stop her, and he is immediately assumed to be attacking her and is taken and beaten by white cops. The entire scene is utterly insane, complete with a white cop saying “the black guy’s a cop!?” when Flip runs up to stop them. I won’t summarize the entire plot of the movie because I know you all watched, but each scene seemed to leave me more and more shook. It was a must-watch.
The Black Klansman –
The Black Klansman is a struggle to choose between one’s duty to their role and their duty to their moral code of ethics. The principal character, Ron, had always wanted to be a cop, so when he saw the sign urging that minorities join the force, he jumped at the opportunity. However, Ron’s assignment became filing duty, to collect files for other cops and distribute them when asked, and he hated his job. He wanted to be a cop to serve a purpose. His moral code demanded more, and so he asked for an undercover job and they granted it. Yet, there was another stone in his path because it meant he had to calm down the rally for Black Power. I don’t believe that until Ron saw the initial movement with the Black student Union and Kwame Ture that he fully understood the power of the united Black power. I think it was then that Ron understood that if he was going to uphold his moral, ethical principles then he was going to have to work from the inside. Ron created an operation that rested on infiltrating the Klu Klux Klan with two Rons: one Ron would be on the phone and the other would be the “white” Ron. All the plot has a very interesting way of suggesting whether people can fix racism from the inside or do you have to fight outwardly against it?
I think both how Ron and Patrice fight racism can both equally work to end the violence in the country. In order to change a system, one has to fight against what it stands for (Patrice), but you also have to have the power to enact change within the system (Ron). Ending and obliterating racism isn’t a simple solution. Racism is deeply instituted in the American Culture and uprooting that kind of hate is going to take more than one kind of bulldozer.
Before watching this movie, I definitely didn’t know as much about Malcolm X as I probably should have, but (as some people have already mentioned) he is a relatively glossed over figure when discussing the Civil Rights Movement. So much of the attention is focused on MLK that Malcolm X fades into the shadows a little bit, which is why I loved that a movie was made about him.
I really liked how the movie walked us through a detailed account of each time period in Malcolm’s life, to the point where you felt like you were living life with him. You could physically see him work to find himself, and the shifts that took place to get him to where he ended up. I also like how the film added childhood memories throughout the story to add to his personality and give insight into his thoughts and motivations behind his actions. I thought one of the more powerful scenes in the movie was when people threw the molotov cocktails into the windows of his house, and how it cuts between his experience as an adult versus as a child when the same thing happened. It reminds the viewers that this is (unfortunately) a horrible pattern of behavior during that time, and shows the feelings that must have been brought back up after living through something as traumatic as that more than once.
Overall, I’m really glad that this movie was assigned for this class. Malcolm X deserves recognition and credit for his contributions to the Civil Rights Movement (the good and the bad, which I also appreciated that the movie didn’t gloss over the bad things like they do in some biographies). I think (and hope) that this movie will shed new light on Malcolm X, and will give those powerful and influential individuals the voice they deserve.