BlacKkKlansman – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz
Stars: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
The title, which is a type of oxymoron, indicates the complexities of the underlying story which is based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir entitled “Black Klansman”. In the late nineteen seventies, Stallworth was the first African American to become a police officer in Colorado Springs. His second noteworthy achievement was that he managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan. It is these two out of the ordinary events which are at the heart of the story that is told by Spike Lee. He became a member of the Klan by a series of unlikely telephone calls. When it eventually became necessary to attend a meeting of the Klan, Stallworth organised a fellow officer who was suitably white skinned. Not surprisingly, having an African American pretending to be white and a white man pretending to be that same African American at the meetings with the Klan, this film has some elements of farce. What adds to the sense of farce is that this part of the story is true. There are subsidiary parts which are fiction but the central core is based on fact.
Ron Stallworth is played by John David Washington whose voice is entirely convincing when he poses as a white man in his telephone conversations with David Dukes, the Grand Wizard of the Klan, who is played by Topher Grace. During their initial contact neither had any idea of what the other looked like. Their telephone conversation was highly racist including comments made by Stallworth as he sought to gain Dukes confidence. Inevitably, Stalllworth would have to attend a meeting of the Klan and for that purpose one Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is introduced. This name is fictitious as his true identity has never been revealed. Each of these events has from their essence the ability to create tension. However, as mistaken identities are at the centre of this work, high comedy is not far away. The balance between tension and comedy is beautifully realised which is no mean achievement as what is being portrayed by the Klansmen is white racism and supremacy.
Lee creates a group of Klansmen who are consistent in their racist beliefs. Their hatred is pure. They are all male other than one wife, Kathie Kendrickson (Ashlie Atkinson). She bakes cakes for the meetings of the Klan and passes around cups of coffee. Hers is a base and demeaning role in the Klan world. She longs to be more involved in the work of the Klan. As the story evolves she gets her chance and has her fifteen minutes of fame but not in a manner which either she or the Klan would have wished. However, Lee again manages to extract a great deal of humour out of the incident.
As the confederate flag demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia showed last year, white supremacists are a growing malignant force in the United States of America with many apologists at high levels of society. By taking events from the late nineteen seventies, when such open racism would have been less self confident than it is today, Lee is providing a valuable service to society. He has created a film that has at its core a need to expose blatant racism. The mistaken identity enables the story to be infused with a great deal of humour. But that humour does not disguise the seriousness and importance of its message to the United States of America today when ugly and nasty supremacist deeds are ostentatiously afoot.