With everything that has happened in our country over the last few years, both socially and politically, it was only a matter of time before those in the entertainment industry responded using their art. 2018 has had several films that have a lot to say about modern-day America. Black Panther, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Sorry to Bother You and Blindspotting, all great, all add to the conversation about where we are currently at as a nation and as a people.
They are now joined by Spike Lee’s latest, BlacKkKlansman, a based-on-real-life dark comedy that is just as provocative as the title suggests. It is very funny, powerful and occasionally difficult to watch. It is extremely possible this film may make you feel uncomfortable. That is one of many reasons BlacKkKlansman needs to be seen.
The plot tells the story of Ron Stallworth (adapted from his memoir, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”), a black man who became the first minority to work for the Colorado Springs Police Department. In an effort to demonstrate his value and truly make a difference, he begins an undercover investigation into the Ku Klux Klan. He makes contact with them over the phone while his white partner, the non-religious Jewish cop Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman, meets with the KKK members in person. The operation forces both men to take a deep look at who they are and what they believe in.
Ron is trying to transform the system from within. He finds resistance from inside the police department as well as from some in the black community who accuse him of working with the enemy. Getting involved in this world makes him really think about what the best approach is for creating lasting change.
For Flip, it is something of a wakeup call. He has spent his whole life being Jewish in name only. Embodying these people who would hate him for his religion, regardless of whether or not he practices it, causes him to consider things he has never thought about before. This leads to the introduction of the concept of “passing” into the story. Ron passes as white during his phone calls with Klan members, but could not get away with that in person. Flip, however, can hide in plain sight. In a way, he has been passing as non-Jewish his entire life. The events depicted in this film make him ponder what his heritage means to him.
Director/producer/co-writer Spike Lee does not approach bigotry from only one direction. He attacks it on all sides. He goes after those who perpetrate it as well as those who enable it to continue by doing nothing. Lee’s message appears to be that we have not come that far as a people in the last 100 years. He not only explores what it is like for an African American to be the target of so much hatred, but also Jews and any other group that has been the victim of an organization such as the KKK.
You may like BlacKkKlansman. You may not. Either way, it is impossible for me to believe anyone could leave it without strong feelings about what they have seen on screen, especially the parallels Lee draws between our past and our present. This is a tremendously entertaining film. I laughed a lot. Yet I left the theater sad and frustrated. Spike Lee has made a movie of great passion. I do not know if it will change any minds or open any eyes but, at the very least, it should inspire some really interesting conversations.
5 out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews
Read Ben’s last movie review on The Cakemaker.