Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

Image Source: Vox

Written By: Donna M. Day

Distributor: Focus Features
Production Companies: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Blumhouse Productions, Legendary Entertainment, Monkeypaw Productions, Perfect World Pictures and QC Entertainment
Director: Spike Lee
Producers: Jason Blum, Marcei A. Brown, Matthew A. Cherry, Edward H. Hamm Jr., Spike Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, David Rabinowitz, Shaun Redick, Win Rosenfeld and Charlie Wachtel
Scriptwriters: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee based on the book by Ron Stallworth
Main Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver and Laura Harrier
Released: August 24 2018
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Certificate: 15

BlacKkKlansman is the true story of a black police officer in 1970s Colorado who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, rose through the ranks and became a highly thought of member of his local chapter.

The film opens with a clip from Gone with the Wind, a crying innocent southern belle wandering around fallen bodies in the American Civil War before a chilling and hate filled monologue by Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin). Beauregard’s threats of racial integration making America a dangerous and violent filled country where white people will no longer be safe sets the landscape for this exploration of race, politics and civil rights.

The title character is Ron Stallworth (John David Washington). Ron wants to be a police officer, and his local force in Colorado Springs are welcoming applications from minorities and so he applies. After an awkward interview where he is asked about his drug use and his ability to put up with being referred to as “n—–” by other officers, he is offered the job and ends up working in the records room.

Bored and racially abused by other officers, Ron asks to be able to go and work undercover. These requests are refused on the basis that he is a rookie, but when Stokely Carmichael a.k.a. Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) comes into town to give a speech to the Black Students Union, his wish is granted.

Ron goes to the event wearing a wire to get intelligence about anything Carmichael is doing to “stir up trouble”. While there he meets Patrice (Laura Harrier), who is charmed by Ron’s enthusiasm for involvement in the movement. Carmichael’s speech is riveting and leaves his audience, including Ron, enthralled.

After that evening, Ron is transferred to the Intelligence Department and responds to a newspaper advert by the Ku Klux Klan. His original request for reading material results in him speaking to the local chapter head Walter (Ryan Eggold) on the phone. After passionately telling him how much he hates blacks and Jews and relating a story of how his sister was assaulted by a black man, Ron is soon invited to meet Walter face-to-face. Obviously this cannot happen, so arrangements are made for Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a white Jewish officer, to go in his place.

So begins an investigation where Ron continues to speak to various members of the KKK by phone, while Flip attends meetings in person, gradually rising through the ranks and becoming a respected member of the organisation.

As the KKK makes plans for an attack on the black community and Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace) comes to Colorado for “Ron’s” initiation, the film hurtles towards an explosive conclusion which will leave the audience on the edge of their seats and questioning exactly how far we’ve come.

BlacKkKlansman is an excellent combination of drama and dark comedy, which makes the film educational and political without being overly heavy or preachy in tone.

The film could easily have relied on stock characters and stereotypes to plump out the story, but each character that we see is well-rounded and fully developed. Ashlie Atkinson’s portrayal of Connie Kendrickson, the wife of one of the KKK members, is particularly good, blending a stereotypical ideal housewife with a violent white supremacist whose views and passions are made more shocking by her apparently wholesome exterior.

The conflict between Ron’s life as a police officer and his life as a black man creates a good amount of dramatic tension. Flip’s identity as a Jewish man, and the suspicions of some KKK members about him, provides another source of tension as he doesn’t feel as strongly about the KKK as Ron when the investigation first starts but soon begins to question what his Jewish identity means to him.

Use is made of brutal real-life footage which puts the issues in the film smack bang in the present day. Many people see the KKK as a part of history, which no longer has the relevance it once had, but the film cleverly makes use of language which is used in politics today, showing how relevant these issues still are.

BlacKkKlansman tells the story of the fight for the right to be who you are in a world which wants to demonise you before wiping you out for “the greater good”.

It is a long story, and one which is far from over.

Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding