Political Film Review #571

Released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville weekend incident, BlacKkKlansman identifies President Donald Trump as the fulfillment of the dreams of Klansman David Duke. The film begins and ends with documentary footage. Civil War carnage is presented in the beginning. Charlottesville chaos is captured toward the end.

The story, based on true events, focuses on Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), who applies to become a member of the police force of Colorado Springs, Colorado. His ambition is to go undercover to stop racism. Pretending to be an angry White, he telephones the head of the local Klan from his police telephone, professing eagerness to join the Klan. A meeting is scheduled for Stallworth to meet the head of the Klan, so Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish police officer, is recruited to impersonate him. Meanwhile, Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) comes to town, mobilizing a Black Power rally organized by Patrice (Laura Harrier) at Colorado College under his new name Kwame Ture. After Stallworth’s impersonator makes inroads into the local Klan, David Duke (Topher Grace) visits to enroll him as a member of the Klan on the same day when Harry Belafonte (in person) addresses the Black Power group. The wife of a member of the Klan is selected to plant bombs near the venue of the Belafonte meeting. But Stallworth, picked to be Duke’s bodyguard, alerts police, and the plot is averted. She then proceeds to execute plan B—a bomb in the mailbox of the local leader of the Black Power group. Since the bomb is too big for the mailbox, she places the bomb under Patrice’s unattended parked car. Swallworth reaches her too late to stop the car explosion, but he tries to arrest her. Just then two White officers, unaware that Stallworth is undercover, try to arrest him, not her. Soon, Duke returns to New Orleans, while the Colorado Springs Police Department engages in some housecleaning of the most bigoted man on the police force.

Director Spike Lee, working from a book written by Stallworth, is at his best demonstrating links between David Duke and Donald Trump. Salted throughout the film are the slogans America First and Make America Great Again, White police harassing African Americans, and the Klan keeping women in “their place.” The most memorable line is the characterization of Duke’s suit-and-tie appearance of the modern Klan as ushering in the day when someone with his views will “take back” the country. The most fascinating scenes are of the inner workings of the Klan, including the membership ceremony and a burning cross. The Political Film Society has nominated BlacKkKlansman as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2018.  MH