EVERY SO OFTEN, a film comes across your radar, which is so strong and so articulately phrased that you leave the auditorium physically weak. Your knees have turned to jelly and your heart, from the rollercoaster of emotion that you’ve been subjected to, is still rattling in your ribcage. That is the kind of experience you can anticipate with Spike Lee’s most recent film, BlacKkKlansman.
And it’s odd: the trailer makes you think you’re in for a Richard-Pryor-kind of cornily funny take on the blatant racism in America’s notorious South, from the self-deprecating perspective of a cool black guy. It’s all that, but much more. And it’s certainly not a laugh a minute stuff. Lee, working with the biography of Ron Stallworth, who is performed by John David Washington, takes the lethal combination of blind racism, fundamental adherence to religious precepts and blatant stupidity and magicks it into a sophisticated and clear, hard-hitting and sensitively musically woven foray into the base heart of the notorious Ku Klux Klan – those white American men who have been donning pointed hoods with eye holes and lynching blacks and Jews for centuries.
It’s Colorado Springs in the 1980s. The Black Panthers are talking to their people, Ku Klux Klan blokes to theirs; the Black is Beautiful movement is current and universities are amock with protest. To say nothing of white trash behind their masks. Curiously, white rhetoric in this context is premised on hate. Black rhetoric, on self-love, and it is to this boiling, roiling cauldron of values that young Ron Stallworth comes, neat Afro in place, together with a will and wish to be a cop.
You see him sped through the ranks of the white police force, given the keg of dynamite that the racial tension in the town represents. You see him planted in a black protest context, imbibing the words of Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) and infiltrating into the opposite side. He uses his colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as his foil, and the two offer a face to the horror of blind racism that makes your skin crawl. But more than that, they offer insight into what happens to your psyche and sense of self when you are put into the cross hairs of unqualified hatred.
Even arch racist, David Duke is represented (by Topher Grace) in this terrifying tale of deception and violence, brainwashed values and double-guessing, which skitters with directorial levity against real incidents. Indeed, just as you think the baddies get their comeuppance and the film’s about to end, there’s a hairpin turn in the sequence of events which finds you gazing into Donald Trump’s orange face at the time of the white nationalist, unabashed anti-Jewish, anti-black Charlottesville march in August 2017. It’s entertainment taking on real life, head on. And it is terrifying.
This work comes with great legibility and sophistication: it’s a must see for any society fraught with the messiness of pointing racist fingers and name-calling. The real edge that it offers gives you a sense of past, present and future, soiled with the horrifying possibility of a stupid mob, loaded with its sense of self, with money and illusions of God behind it, gone absolutely rogue.
- BlacKkKlansman is directed by Spike Lee and features a cast headed by Ashlie Atkinson, Alec Baldwin, Gina Belafonte, Harry Belafonte, Ato Blankson-Wood, Nichelle Bolden, Michael J. Burg, Robert John Burke, Michael Buscemi, James Campbell, Victor Colicchio, Paul Diomede, Adam Driver, Ryan Eggold, Ken Garito, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Paul Walter Hauser, Corey Hawkins, Danny Hoch, Elise Hudson, Jared Johnston, Damaris Lewis, Arthur J. Nascarella, Jeremy J. Nelson, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Preimesberger, Ernest Rayford, Faron Salisbury, Brian Tarantina, Nicholas Turturro, John David Washington, Frederick Weller, Isiah Whitlock Jr and Dared Wright. It is written by Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, based on the book by Ron Stallworth. Produced by Jason Blum, Spike Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele and Shaun Redick, it features creative input by Terence Blanchard (music), Chayse Irvin (cinematography), Barry Alexander Brown (editing), Kim Coleman (casting), Curt Beech (production design) and Marci Rodgers (costumes). Release date, through Cinema Nouveau, Ster Kinekor: September 7 2018.