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BlacKkKlansman – Movie Review

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BlacKkKlansman – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

Spike Lee has long been unafraid of revealing the racial divide going on in the United States and BlacKkKlansman represents a film that will definitely be a conversation starter, especially with the rise of certain movements. It is immediately established that the Ku Klux Klan is not the only target, although they certainly get the most attention. Lee seems intent on also talking about the influence of media and what it means to be a part of any minority in America. Beyond the social commentary, this film also works as an unconventional buddy cop movie strengthened by its two central performances.

Adapting Ron Stallworth’s account of when he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, Spike Lee showcases a sense of humour and creates the proper tone for the piece. BlacKkKlansman jumps between serious moments and the hilarious ways in which Stallworth pulls the wool over the eyes of the KKK. The KKK is definitely foolish, although Lee also portrays them as scary people. These aren’t just standard racists frothing at the mouth. These are regular Joes and housewives who hold these horrible ideals and hide under white sheets in support of these horrific acts. Even when Stallworth taunts them, as he so often does with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, there’s a level of tension.

The friendship formed between Stallworth and Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman is well handled, especially helped by exceptional performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver. As part of groups targeted by the KKK, the film properly showcases their distaste for the organisation and the effect this investigation has on them individually. Stallworth also forms a strong romance with an activist and her anti-police comments allow Lee to talk about racial profiling among cops. Lee carefully skirts between lighthearted moments and serious scenes, especially when Zimmerman finds himself interrogated. He frequently makes jokes towards a suspicious Klansman and they are funny jabs, but the fear of the situation never goes away.

BlacKkKlansman also seeks to comment on cinema itself and how it has communicated images that have long made African Americans uncomfortable. Spike Lee had previously made minstrel shows a target in Bamboozled and now he turns his criticism towards famous landmark films like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. At times, he even showcases the differences between how white viewers assess a film versus a black audience. Where Lee eventually takes the film plays with cinematic form and narrative convention, ending on a note that should lead to silence and then needed conversation about history still repeating itself. These are discussions we should still continue to have and BlacKkKlansman is certainly opening during a relevant time.

Spike Lee has more than earned his place as a filmmaker willing to make audiences uncomfortable and BlacKkKlansman represents another worthy film in his catalogue. In addition to highlighting and calling attention to a monstrous group with horrific racist ideas, Lee also wants us to look back at how race has been depicted in films. While the movie does have its share of funny scenes, they are immediately followed by moments sure to generate gasps. Lee manages to pack a lot into the film’s 135 minute runtime, yet the pacing is kept tight and the audience is left with a lot to think about afterwards.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison