A lot of black folks don’t like Spike Lee’s films because they cover uncomfortable issues and topics they’d rather keep suppressed from consciousness. This is a grave mistake. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” Spike Lee films make you think, that’s for sure.
My wife and I went to see the latest Spike Lee joint, The BlackkKlansman. Ironically there were more white folks in line trying to get tickets than Blacks. The first theater we went to, I was informed the film was sold out except for the first two rows in the front where you had to bend your neck to look up at the screen. Most of the people in line ahead of me asking for tickets to see the film were white. We returned home and ordered tickets Online at another theater.
We went to the theater later that afternoon; there were only a handful of Black folks in the audience. The theater was about half full and most of the patrons were white.
Spike Lee views the world through the lens of race (and sometimes class) and this film is no different. It is based upon a true story about a Black man named Ron Stallworth who secured employment as a policeman in the mostly all white Colorado Springs Police Department that was looking to diversify its department.
Once hired Stallworth, is assigned to the record room which he finds stifling. He brashly asks the chief for a transfer to undercover. He is initially turned down. Later the Chief comes to him with an offer to do plainclothes surveillance when Stokely Carmichael comes to town to speak at a college event sponsored by the university’s Black Student Union.
Without giving away the plot, that assignment leads to another and Stallworth played by John David Washington (Denzel’s son) offers to go undercover to infiltrate the KKK. His request on the surface seems preposterous. But he convinces the Chief to let him do it and being a resourceful dude Stallworth and his crew pull it off.
Lee juxtaposes the real life facts of Stallworth’s gambit with the racial attitudes of the 1970’s and present day America. Lee’s cinematic eye captures the blatant racism within the Colorado Springs police department, reveals the tension the Black students are feeling as they push for “revolutionary change” in a mostly white environment and observes the Klu Klux Klan’s shift towards mainstream acceptance by its national leader David Duke.
Officer Stallworth is not woke politically. He knows he is Black, he has experienced racism personally, prior to and since joining the force, but he is not a radical or a revolutionary. He is just a guy trying to do his job. He knows how to speak “The King’s English” and Black lingo too and when a KKK caller to the police station mistakes him for a white guy, this incident triggers Stallworth’s idea to infiltrate the Klan.
Lee captures the tension between Stallworth and Patrice the head of the Black Students played by Laura Harrier. She calls police pigs and believes the system is irredeemably corrupt and racist. Stallworth on the other hand thinks change can be made from the inside. This disparity in philosophies creates a barrier to their relationship which Stallworth tries to develop once he meets her at the university rally.
Obviously, Stallworth cannot meet face to face with the Klan members to join them so another police officer named Flip Zimmerman played by Adam Driver (Kylo Ren of The Force Awakes and Last Jedi fame) does all the face to face interactions.
To add to the film’s emotional tension, Zimmerman is a non-practicing Jew, who is now forced to grapple with his own heritage and safety once he joins the hatemongers.
Spike Lee does a masterful job of chronicling the history of the times, the racial attitudes while providing enough comic relief so the viewers don’t become overwhelmed by the weightiness of the subject.
The film did fairly well. It came in at number five. I recommend you see it because this film makes a clear statement about not just the past but what is going on in this country and around the world today.