Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, and Topher Grace
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, and Shaun Redick
Based on a ridiculous true story, BlaKkKlansman is the latest in Spike Lee’s films plotting America’s history.
Set in 1978, the film explores the story of Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black Colorado Springs detective who went undercover (over the phone) to investigate the activities of the Klu Klux Klan. Needing a white avatar for the investigation’s in-person elements, he works with his Jewish co-worker Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
Much of BlacKkKlansman’s tension (and raucous humour) draws from the sheer ridiculousness of its situation. Stallworth managed to keep his ruse up to the point that he ended up having phone conversations with the Klan’s then-Grand Dragon David Duke, who claimed to be able to tell whether or not someone was African-American based on the sound of their voice. Stallworth was even issued an official Klan membership card, which he kept framed in his office.
Framing all of these events is Lee’s eye for detail. Between its eye-catching costumes, mise en scène and camera angles, BlacKkKlansman manages to constantly remain visually engaging.
As entertaining as the film often is, BlaKkKlansman is a political sledgehammer that the audience cannot avoid. As easy as it is to laugh at the Klan members being duped, and the ridiculousness of the true events as they unfold, there is a discomfort to the film’s reminder that things are no better nowadays.
Shortly after the film’s denouement comes a devastating coda that links the film directly to modern times. Racism is every bit as stupid as it was in the 1970s. With Donald Trump in the White House and white supremacists being normalised by high-profile interviews and festival invitations, it is also every bit as alive.
BlaKkKlansman is a well-crafted and timely film that speaks into our contemporary context. It deserves to be seen.
BlacKkKlansman is now playing in cinemas.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor