Yesterday Kish and I went to the Drexel to screen BlacKkKlansman, the new film by Spike Lee that has been getting some Oscar buzz. It’s a powerful, jarring film that is well worth seeing.
BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs played by John David Washington. In the early ’70s, Stallworth becomes an undercover officer who — first via telephone, and later through a white surrogate played by Adam Driver — successfully infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK. He even establishes a telephone relationship with David Duke, the national Grand Wizard of the Klan. At the same time, Stallworth is dealing with outright and implicit racism in his own police department, and trying to establish a relationship with the head of the local Black Student Union, who is the target of attention from the racists in the Klan. Ultimately the local KKK decides to act at the same time Duke comes to town for a membership initiation, and the investigation turns to a race to try to prevent the Klan’s terrorism.
Washington and Driver are terrific, but this is one of those movies where it seems like every actor is at the top of his or her game. The film very convincingly conveys the danger of the undercover operation and the simmering menace of some of the Klan members, who like to carry guns and drink and voice their bigotry and hatred and radiate rage and hostility. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, and the scenes depicting outright racism are especially hard to watch. And lest we think this is an issue that has been buried in the distant past, the end of the film presents footage of a 2017 march of “white supremacists” in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a lunatic drove a car into a crowd protesting the “white supremacist” march, killing one of the protesters. The footage is stomach-churning, and leaves the audience with a lot to think about as it quietly files out of the theater.
Kish and I haven’t been to the movies in a while, because it’s hard to find an interesting film among all the superhero schlock and remakes. BlacKkKlansman shows what film can accomplish if it’s willing to tackle hard issues and deserves every bit of the Oscar buzz it has been getting.