Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Movie with Abe: BlacKkKlansman

Directed by Spike Lee
Released August 10, 2018

There are many incredible stories from throughout history that, regardless of or perhaps as a result of their grandeur or their unbelievable nature, aren’t immediately shared with the public. It can take years for them to be told, and they may not come to light until well after the deaths of those involved. Once they are public, it’s natural for them to be shared in broad fashion, put to paper in newspapers, magazines, or books and then turned into films or television series. The framing can make all the difference – what this amazing series of events looks like and signifies in the right context.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) becomes the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs in 1979. Eager to go undercover, Stallworth picks up the phone and dials the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Posing as a prospective member, Stallworth develops a relationship with his voice alone, sending a white colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), in his place to meet the members. While he tries to build a case against these white nationalists that he believes are doing more than spreading hate, Stallworth also befriends the Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke (Topher Grace), who, like the local chapter members, has no idea that they’re actually speaking to someone who represents all they despise.

Much of this film focuses on the humorous nature of how Stallworth managed to fool so many people and become a card-carrying member of the KKK. The surrounding culture of racism even within the police department in Colorado Springs serves as an important backdrop to this story, which is a very self-congratulatory one that features many moments of clearly expressed triumph. Unsurprisingly, a good deal of the characters and incidents in this film have been fictionalized, which is understandable, but what it means is that the film isn’t quite as emphatically powerful as it hopes to be, providing a less than satisfactory amount of information and intrigue beyond the film’s initial premise.

This is a very recognizable Spike Lee Joint, praised by many as a return to form for the director. The references to the current state of America and how little progress has been achieved are overt and unsubtle throughout the film, but it really reaches its boiling point in the closing moments that bring home the seriousness of this subject and what America looks like today. Had that tone defined this relatively entertaining and overly casual film, it would be both a truly strong film and an important wake-up call to the next generation. Ultimately, it’s really just the latter, a decent film that hardly makes the most of its very worthwhile subject until its final harrowing scene.


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