From the Cannes Film Festival: Spike Lee Takes On the KKK with ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Ron Stalworth (John David Washington) is Colorado’s first black police officer. Sick of desk-work and the casual racism of his colleagues he volunteers for undercover work. After briefly spying on the Black Panthers, he takes the initiative to apply to the Ku Klux Klan over the phone, pretending to be white. Soon, and with the assistance of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as his white stand in, he is able to infiltrate the chapter and must foil a dangerous plot.

Spike Lee brings all of his signature visual ambition to the film. He’s not afraid to be abstract when he feels it will help the mood. An obligatory stunning dance sequence is included care of a disco and we also get Lee’s signature glide, used to truly upsetting effect near the end of the film. The period detail is also on point and beautifully detailed.

The performances are wonderful across the board. John David Washington is a charismatic and dynamic lead who brings real life to the character of Stalworth. Adam Driver is, as usual, brilliant as the reluctant accomplice in the sting. His quiet calmness makes him a perfect undercover cop.

BlacKkKlansman is a tense thriller that also manages to be funny and terrifying. The Klan are satirised and made to look ridiculous, always a good approach to groups founded on hatred. (See: The Great Dictator). Yet the sheer horror of their beliefs is evident in the language.

The supremacists of the film may be absurd but their grievances are explored. Their feelings of marginalization, a misguided sense of oppression and utterly groundless assumptions fuel their hatred. Similarly though, Lee takes time to explore some of the less helpful aspects of the Black Panthers and how the system is best changed from within.

Lee clearly wanted the film to have contemporary relevance. Phrases such as “Make America great again” and “America first” are used by the Klan. Posters with Nixon’s face are visible with the slogan “Now more than ever” and just to be fully clear the film ends with horrifying footage of Charlottesville and Trump’s shameful response. The point is that racism is not a thing of the past and although our characters may triumph, the war for basic equality rages on.

BlacKkKlansman is an excellently crafted thriller and an urgent call to action for anyone who believes equality is a given and anyone who doesn’t see the dangers of our time.

4.5 / 5

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