“BlacKkKlansman” shows racism alive and well in America

Image courtesy of Vulture.

Image courtesy of Vulture.

Harry Green, Eastside Online Editor

In BlacKkKlansman, Director Spike Lee follows Ron Stallworth, a young African American living in Colorado Springs. Stallworth, hoping to make a difference in his community, decides to join the police force. At the film’s onset, the Colorado Springs Police Department has never before employed an African American. However, as Stallworth is interviewed for the position, the chief of police (played by Robert John Burke) concedes that “this area is behind the times” and would benefit from greater diversity. Stallworth begins to work for the department by organizing and retrieving criminal files. It does not take long before he becomes bored with it, and asks to be placed in the “intelligence” unit. Here, he is asked to go undercover to gather information that is valuable to the department. On his first assignment, he is tasked with infiltrating the Colorado College’s Black Student Union, who have invited civil rights activist Kwame Ture (played by Corey Hawkins) to speak. In listening to Ture address the student union, Stallworth comes to see Ture not as the dangerous “subversive” described by the police chief, but as an important and articulate voice for Blacks to respond to racism.   

After listening to Ture and other activists speak about racism and equal justice, Stallworth begins to feel ambivalent about spying on African Americans on behalf of the police department. Soon, he finds an advertisement for the Ku Klux Klan in the newspaper, offering membership opportunities. Stallworth thinks being a member could provide the department with truly useful information and decides to call the number listed in the advertisement. He is met on the phone by  Walter Breachway (played by Ryan Eggold), the leader of the KKK’s Colorado Springs Chapter. While on the phone, Stallworth emphasizes his hatred of African Americans, Jewish people and homosexuals, much to the recruiter’s delight. They plan to meet at the end of the week.

Because he is African American, Ron Stallworth cannot meet the KKK. Thus, he enlists the help of a fellow officer, named Philip “Flip” Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver). Together, Stallworth and Zimmerman infiltrate and investigate the Klan.  Through their investigation they uncover several troubling issues, including a terror plot and the KKK’s deep ties to the United States military.

Adam Driver (left) and John David Washington collaborate in a scene from BlacKkKlansman. Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

This movie can be enjoyed on multiple levels.  For the moviegoer interested in action and suspense, one need look no further than the tense and sometimes humorous scenes when Zimmerman is suspected by the Klan of being a cop, or worse (being Jewish).  Beyond that, however, BlacKkKlansman offers an exploration of several important themes about the American condition on both ends of the racial spectrum. For one, it juxtaposes the various methods in which African Americans have attempted to attain equality. In the film, Ron Stallworth believes he can end racism from within, by working alongside whites at the police department. On the other hand, there existed people like Kwame Ture, who are portrayed in the film as encouraging blacks to “arm yourselves… a revolution is coming.” This dichotomy of approaches to activism are not new; Malcolm X promoted a more radical approach to attaining equality than Martin Luther King, Jr. We even see these opposing strategies today; while some peacefully protest, others riot in the streets.

Another theme in the film is the deep and enduring roots of racism in the country.  It drew a bright and unbroken line between the lynchings, church bombings, and rubber hoses of the 1970s and the violence of the 2017 Charlottesville protests. In ironically having the Klansmen of the 1970’s dreaming of a day when a white supremacist would become president, director Spike Lee reminds the viewer that this country’s problems with race are not a thing of the past.  Those who watch the film will not only witness the story of Ron Stallworth, but of America itself.

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Alec Baldwin, Robert John Burke, Michael Buscemi, Ryan Eggold, Jasper Pääkkönen, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Topher Grace, Frederick Weller, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Ken Garito
Director: Spike Lee

Harry’s Rating: 3/4