From Director Spike Lee comes the incredible story of true American hero. In the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The movie is based on Stallworth’s 2014 book Black Klansman, which details his experience. When it came time to meet the Klan members face-to-face, he utilized the help of a white undercover narcotics officer (Adam Driver in the movie), who posed as Stallworth for all in-person meetings with the Klan. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
The film is very creative in the way that it presents history and allows the audience ride along with the action, suspense, and anxiety experience by Washington and Driver’s characters. The tone of the film, at times, is lighthearted in its approach but quickly draws you back in when faced with the reality that David Duke, and people like him walk among us dressing up their racism with non-threatening slogans, professional attire, and a clean-cut package.
The story displayed is a reminder that racism in America has a long history and is not isolated geographically to the south nor limited to Charlottesville or Charleston. The attitudes and actions committed by those who agree with the stances of white supremacy and white supremacist organizations have had a drastic impact on the development of American society. It has shaped and misshapen our attitudes towards one another. It continues to affect us today as we all bear witness to unbridled racism or the downplaying of racism with terms like “political correctness.” This film is timely in its approach and offers audiences a more full and expansive view of what combatting racism and racist attitudes and actions looks like.
Blackkklansman is a film that many have waited for when first hearing about the story of Ron Stallworth and they will not be disappointed with what they witness on screen. Sadly, the people who desperately need to see this movie may pass on it because they are uncomfortable with the subject matter and the reality that they themselves may be complicit in the continuance of racism and white supremacy. This film feels like a conversation being conducted directly between the director and audience. There are subtleties that allow the audience to think about the meaning and even parallel between the early 1970s and the current political environment, as well as, moments where there is no hiding of the message, no metaphor, no allegory. The filmmakers make it clear for those watching that many of us need to wake up almost as blatantly as Spike Lee promotes one of his earlier films, School Daze.
The only problem I found with the film was that I was left wanting more discussion. I wanted to see more of what Ron Stallworth dealt with as the only black detective in his department. If anything, this shows a real strength in the film by leaving audiences emotionally connected with the horrors that he faced, as well as, the way that those around him come to grips with the reality of the hatred and racial violence that had overlooked before because it did not have a direct effect on them. Blackkklansman is a film that will have audiences reflecting long after the credits have rolled. Hopefully the themes, metaphors, and overall message will help foster overdue and well-needed conversations about race, racism, prejudice, and violence. This film takes audiences out of their comfort zones and forces them to face some of the dark corners of America for two hours. Within that two hours, hopefully the people who don’t recognize racism and bigotry get a glimpse of the true horror and fear that marginalized communities feel on a daily basis so that they themselves can be agents of change and fight against racism.