By Garrett Cecere
When I saw the trailer for “BlacKkKlansman” a few months ago, and my jaw dropped and my head shook in both shock and amusement. I knew there was no doubt that upon its release, this film would generate a lot of discussions about racism –– a topic Spike Lee has always tackled in his films.
Directed and co-written by Lee, “BlacKkKlansman” tells the outrageous but true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado during the ’70s. The story certainly is outlandish, but what makes it exhilarating is that the script was based on the book that Stallworth wrote in real life, which detailed his experience as an undercover cop.
In the first few minutes, Lee illustrates that this film is more than just a period crime comedy and that there is additional depth with the story. Before diving in, we get a brief monologue of race, eugenics and white supremacy from the fictional Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin). The black-and-white scene is out of the blue and a bit unsettling to watch. However, it soon becomes clear that it is essential to establishing not just the film’s key ideas, but also the sad truth that these racist ideas are not stuck in our past — they are still a problem now.
When the film’s main story begins, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African American to be hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department. He begs his chief to let him go undercover, as opposed to doing boring work in the records room.
After he is assigned to monitor the audience of a rally where Stokely Carmichael is speaking, Stallworth is reassigned to work for intelligence.
In an effort to reach his goal of going undercover, he finds an ad for the Ku Klux Klan in a local paper. He calls, pretending to be a white man, and arranges for them to meet. He enlists the help of his co-worker Flip (Adam Driver), who happens to be Jewish. Flip impersonates Ron whenever he has to meet with the Klan members in person, while the real Ron does all the talking on the phone.
From this point on, “BlacKkKlansman” is full of both cringy, funny and nail-biting tense scenes. I remember quite a few moments when I laughed nervously while observing the audience around me. Some were laughing too, but others were dead silent.
There are some comedic scenes where Ron calls David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Klan (Topher Grace), and one scene in particular when Ron calls Duke one last time. In this comical scene, Ron gets the last laugh and the final say in revealing himself to Duke. I had to cover my mouth to stifle my laughter after it was over.
As far as the performances go, Washington and Driver’s stand out the most. One of my favorite scenes is when Ron and Flip manage to get a membership card for the KKK. Ron jokes about it, but Flip is not as enthusiastic –– Ron can hide behind the phone, but Flip is the one who has had to meet with the Klan members and pretend to be like them. It was a very emotional moment for his character, as well as one of my favorites in the film.
The actors who play the Klan members did it well, as I imagine it was very difficult to take on such a controversial part. Specifically, one radical member named Felix (Jasper Paakkonen) melted into his role.
The themes behind film are still relevant in modern society. There are various moments that remind us that racism unfortunately still exists, and that it is more of a problem than we may realize. Released around the one-year anniversary of the riots in Charlottesville, the film also includes a clever scene toward the end that is reflective of the #MeToo movement.
“BlacKkKlansman” is a tense and sometimes funny film that serves as a reminder –– we are not looking at the past; we are sadly still looking at today.