The premise of Spike Lee’s latest sounds so outlandish, it’s crazy to think it’s true. But alas, it simply makes for a more enriching film, both artistically and educationally. Starring John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman follows a lone black police officer, Ron Stallworth, at the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 70s. Stallworth quickly makes waves in his new work environment, and not just because of the color of his skin. After discovering membership material about the Klu Klux Klan, the rookie cop makes a brave yet reckless choice to call the organization’s number and enters the white supremacist circle with help from his white voice. He’s faced with opposition from his team, but eventually gets apprehensive help from Adam Driver’s Flip, who poses as the white Ron Stallworth.
When undercover at a Colorado College Black Student Union event, Stallworth meets its president Patrice (Laura Harrier), a proud woman of the fight for black liberation. They seamlessly woo each other and make for a very cute couple, but there’s one glaring issue– Patrice hates cops. As they grow closer, this opposition in beliefs, specifically since she doesn’t know Ron’s true occupation, creates more internal dilemma for Ron. He is doing what he is confident will better his people yet in a role that typically doesn’t have their best interest in mind. And this conflict is never really solved. It’s simply accepted. Because no matter how sincere his efforts are, the long, unacceptable history of abuse and oppression is too much to deny.
A lot of the humor presents itself in the klanmen’s consistent inability to hear the utter ridiculousness they preach while they are being undermined by a new member within their organization so easily. Though, it’s the source of the film’s emotional and outraging punch as well. While it might be insane to think a black man was able to infiltrate a white supremacist group, its members’ hatred and racist acts are not. The wife of one of the leading klansmen may have made some unthinkably stupid choices that only ruin her life, but it, in no way, provides any shock. And that’s what makes it terrifying. So, by the end, it’s a severe reality check to believe, even if only for a moment, that the final moments take place in the film’s 70s setting when, in fact, it’s footage from the Charlottesville riots in 2017. The dialogue is often too heavy-handed in its relevant messaging for my liking, but this is a stunning way to bring the audience back to the present.
Lee’s film significantly relies on a strong performance from its lead and Washington effortlessly delivers. Stallworth’s existence as a police officer is complicated, and Washington does a phenomenal job in showing this strain without losing the character’s love for what he does. If you didn’t know who Washington was before watching the film, you surely will want to follow his budding career after. His co-star, Driver, also offers a lovely performance as the more experienced detective. There are many moments when he is more scared than the real Stallworth, and the way he portrays Flip’s journey in accepting his Jewish identity is quite beautiful. While I wish she was utilized more, Harrier gives an impressive turn as Patrice, and she should be at the top of casting considerations.
This is a heavy film with a perfect dose of humor, but my favorite scene isn’t a major piece of the plot. After the evening with Kwame Ture, Ron and Patrice join other students at a bar and a fun dance sequence takes place. Seeing a group of young, black and beautiful people gathered around each other and having a great time, despite their reality, made me smile from ear to ear. It’s a visualization of black love that isn’t frequently shown on screen and I need more.