Part of the reason that I touched on Charlottesville last week was because of the end of BlacKkKlansman. Before the final credits, the film cuts to a recap of the Unite the Right protests and counter-protests, ultimately coming to rest on a dedication to Heather Hayer and an upside down American flag. Spike Lee’s award-winning social commentary is a stark reminder that racism and white supremacy are still alive and well in our country, and you never have to go back very far to find the proof.
That ending had a profound impact on me. Aside from the fact that it was a classy gesture on Lee’s part to pay his respects to Hayer, he made it clear that we’re too quick to forget what happens in front of our very eyes. Upset as I was upon learning the horror that unfolded in Charlottesville, I admittedly moved on with my normal life and gave it very little thought until I saw BlacKkKlansman. Lee knows this about our society and isn’t going to let us off the hook just because we found his movie entertaining.
And that really doesn’t even do justice to the film. BlacKkKlansman is a riveting, surprisingly humorous account of Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. He can’t do this on his own, since the Klan isn’t big on recruiting black guys, so he enlists the help of his white co-worker Flip Zimmerman to pose as Stallworth in person. What follows is a series of tense encounters between fake Stallworth and the Klan, and the real Stallworth and his fellow officers. Not surprisingly, racism emerges in both situations and the reluctant partners are forced to rely on each other more than they would like.
John David Washington, the son of Denzel, commands the screen like his father while simultaneously setting himself apart. His Stallworth is a determined, tenacious officer, forced to juggle multiple responsibilities in a town where some of his peers want to see him fail. He makes a connection with the president of a local Black Student Union, and she openly expresses her disdain for cops (with good reason based on how a certain racist officer treats her). It’s a literal no-win situation, but Stallworth remains steadfast through it all, The man turned in a remarkably impressive performance and I look forward to seeing the prodigal son in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet next month.
And what a relief it was to see Adam Driver with a script that matches his talent, considering they completely wasted him in Rise of Skywalker. To Zimmerman, this whole operation is just another assignment. He grumbles at Stallworth’s directions not because he’s a black man, but because Zimmerman doesn’t like a rookie telling him how to do his job. And yet, he sticks with it and stands in solidarity with Stallworth. At a certain point, you can see it slowly dawning on the Jewish Zimmerman that he should probably have personal motives for bringing down the KKK. Driver is a Rubik’s Cube of emotions, bringing a complexity to the role that resonates all the more in this day and age.
There are scenes in BlacKkKlansman that strongly evoke recent events. That’s because instances of racism in America are never that far removed from present day, if at all. The question isn’t what we’ll do to finally address this issue as a country, but when.
When will America finally own its racist ways and implement some meaningful change?