Movie review: BlacKKKlansman
BlacKKKlansman— Running Time: 2:15 — Rating: R
In a strong, undeniable way, director Spike Lee’s “BlacKKKlansman” is his accusation that few of us understand the depth of racial segregation as it exists today. This isn’t a story set in the distant past, in fact it’s based on a true story (a black police officer in Colorado actually infiltrated the KKK).
“BlacKKKlansmen” begins in the 1970s, a time when much of the populace assumed slavery and segregation were over. Spike Lee’s movie is a sharp reminder that what we thought had been accomplished had simply gone underground with progress confined to liberal areas in the Northeast and far West. This movie is an attack on our ignorance. Slavery may be over; segregation isn’t.
Lead character Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) teams up with fellow police officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). As a black man, Stallworth can only work from the office by phone, but he drives the operation as he becomes an undercover member of the KKK. Zimmerman, a Jewish cop, hides his own feelings as he becomes the white face of Stallworth in order to enter the Klan. He must listen to fellow klansmen spout their certainties. And there Zimmerman stands, wearing the hood of the Klan. Together Stallworth and Zimmerman work to expose the Klan.
Laura Harrier plays Patrice Dumas, a firm opponent of the segregationists who, rather than discuss the problems with her new friend Stallworth, lectures him from her righteous position.
The story is Spike Lee’s way of delivering the message that while many of us believe that changing laws has changed behavior, the reality is that life for a black person walking down a street is still frightening; hands out of pockets, silence, no reactions, no sudden moves.
As Zimmerman and Stallworth become the team that delivers both the nuance and the ugliness of this story, it would be hard not to sink into some level of fear, guilt and confusion, living as we do in a world where so much is still unfair. Their acting is so good that their story hits us with the sharpest edges of accusation. Topher Grace creates the Klan’s Grand Wizard with calm born of his total commitment to the consuming hatred that has become his core.
“BlackKKlansman” is both serious and provocative. It comes from Spike Lee as a command to reexamine our own beliefs and actions. When, near the end, he jumps into present day politics, the movie acquires even greater force. There is no question that the depth of feeling in the audience at the close is due to the uncanny way Lee forces us to face this continuing problem of our own creation. He doesn’t allow us for a second to retreat to believing the job had been done with the passage of anti-segregation laws. His power comes from skillful use of a fine group of actors to examine the problems as they exist right now. The depth of feeling as the theater empties is due to Spike Lee’s uncanny skill at pulling everyone deeply into this continuing American problem.
— Reviewed by Joan Ellis
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