BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s latest movie: released in 2018, the film stars John David Washington (he’s the son of Denzel Washington) and Adam Driver, who’s working so much lately! I don’t think that I have to introduce the great American director: Do the right thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), 25th hour (2002) are only three great examples taken from his amazing filmography. But I must admit that he slipped under my radar lately. However, with BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee got back strongly where he belongs, that is among the best directors of his era.
BlacKkKlansman is a punch in the stomach, with Lee doing his best to try to awake the United States from the numbness in which they fell and brought them into the arms of Donald Trump, a president who’s doing everything he can to convey the message that racism is not a problem and, on the contrary, it’s almost a good thing. Well, according to Spike Lee, racism is an aberration and must be eradicated, and of course it is. His latest film shouts out loud this very basic concept.
The movie is based, at least in part, on a real episode which took place in 1979 (the film is set in 1972 so to be able to mention issues like Vietnam and the election of Richard Nixon). An African American cop, Ron Stallworth, successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of white racists, and managed to get some people kicked out of the army due to their extremist beliefs. How did he do that? Obviously, he didn’t show up in person at the Klan meetings, but rather he sent a non-African American colleague to take his place.
But this is just the excuse used by the director to tell a story which shows how 70s’ US, on the edge of a violent racial conflict, are so dangerously similar to today’s US governed by Trump. In fact, the film opens with a scene taken from Gone with the wind, a controversial movie due to how it treated the theme of slavery but still considered a masterpiece of cinema, and with a character played by Alec Baldwin shouting racist slogans not too dissimilar from those used by the current US president every now and then.
And even if the film is set in 1972 with an impeccable historical reconstruction (having shot on film rather than digitally helped a lot!), dialogues of the KKK members are clearly similar to those heard in the last electoral campaign full of slogans like America first and Make America great again. Also, Spike Lee didn’t want to make a “simple” historical film, but rather a tribute to the African American culture of that time: there are plenty of references to blaxploitation movies with Pam Grier and to the great funky music of that era.
Every scene is extremely powerful. Think about Kwame Ture’s long speech edited with the faces of the young students hypnotized by his words floating over a black background. And what about the wonderful editing of the racist KKK meeting and the much more lively and intelligent meeting of the African American students? I was also impressed by the intentional and repeated breaking of the 180 degrees rule when Adam Driver is forced to hear the nonsensical sentences of the Klan members for the first time and cannot say what he really thinks of that scum. And the scene in which Stallworth walks towards the black silhouettes/targets riddled by KKK’s firearm shots is so touching, especially knowing that Spike Lee BOUGHT THE TARGETS ON INTERNET: yes, it’s legal to sell this stuff, the film crew didn’t have to create them for the movie. Equally strong is the contrast between the two opposite messages of hatred White power! and Black power! which, of course, don’t lead anywhere.
And then the final part… I was stunned by the parallel between the burnt cross in front of Stallworth’s house in 1972 and the torches of the white supremacists’ demonstrations in the US in 2017. And Spike Lee gives the final blow with the images of Charlottesville demonstrations, when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters injuring many people and killing one girl. And add to those powerful images Trump’s statements defending the neonazis, saying that there were several good people with them and that the violent ones were on both sides.
To conclude, Spike Lee couldn’t have been more direct. Yes, maybe in the future this movie will look a bit dated due to the news’ references in it. But I think that the director’s intent was to make a film that was a statement, to remind the whole world that the US in 2018 is a place where racism is dangerously back in fashion. A place where the KKK chief can now make public rallies AND QUOTE THE PRESIDENT who supports his ideas, something that has never happened in the modern history of the country.
I can only thank Spike Lee for what he did. He gave us one of his most powerful, most angry films. He even managed to put in the film his hatred of Birth of a nation (1915), something he thinks since he was a student in New York and almost got him expelled from NYU Film School (look for the anecdote, it’s cool), a school in which in 1993 he began working as a professor. Go see BlacKkKlansman if you can, you won’t regret it! Ciao!