BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) who severed as the first African-American officer at the Colorado Springs Police Department. The story follows an ensemble cast as the new detective attempts to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. Alongside civil rights activist Patrice (Laura Harrier) and detective Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the wide spread rise in right-wing ideology is explored from both sides of the isle.
Jordan Peele, the producer and Academy-Award winning writer of Get Out, helped lay the foundation for director Spike Lee in a story that plays to demystify the power of the Klan. The two work to raise the issue of rebranding within the unbelievable narrative that took home the Grand Prix prize at Cannes.
The kung fu loving, Soul Train moving, Black Power piece unleashes the fashionable, liberated 70’s against the recent emergence of repressed racism. Taking a critical eye to the impact of imagery and themes in film, Lee includes the classics of American cinema. Opening with a wide shot of Gone with the Wind, inserting KKK footage from Birth of a Nation and referencing Blaxploitation cinema, Lee asks us to confront the representations of blackness on screen.
Whether it is remixing the spectacle of blackface in Tropic Thunder or the lone heroic figure in Django Unchained, the distorted cinematic stereotypes are created to garner attention for their shock factor, rather than bring awareness to any social and moral difficulties we face. Instead of erasing or denying this past, Lee asks for accountability. Not only from filmmakers but viewers who have become less critical and more complacent about the representations created for our entertainment.
While the trendy Blaxploitation era offered starved black audiences’ images of strong black characters on screen, we are only now witnessing a wider birth of real stories that are more reflective of the true black experience. While black creatives are finally being promoted on a larger platform alongside the usual suspects, we should stay critical of the narratives presented to us.
This film needn’t be a flat-out documentary highlight how disturbingly relevant Ron’s story is. With BlacKkKlansman opening worldwide on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville, jarring fake film of the Klan’s cross burning is cross cut against real footage of 2007's Unite the Right rally, where white supremacists fought over the removal of a Confederate statue.
Lee’s work also pushes the past to the present by visually focusing in on black self-love to counter the new wave of conservative thinking. The character, Patrice offers a strong amalgamation of all the women who influenced the Black Power movement. Merging Angela Davis, Ella Baker, and other behind-the-scenes organisers, her presence alone helps redefine a regularly forgotten piece of history that is obscured behind the men of the movement.
Strong performers are trusted with the material in a way that also makes the racism palatable. Topher Grace who plays the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke has opted to lose the hood and suit up in public to help change the perception of the Klan. His reframing of racist attitudes, including “America First” has ushered in an acceptable intolerance, with a new wave of momentum behind his ideas.
BlacKkKlansman is a fantastic film that reminds audiences of how current administrations have capitalised and captured the particular characteristic that makes America great for some. But, it is also a painful reminder of how effortlessly right-wing ideology has seeped into all of our cultures.