Spike Lee's newest is a film that should make you break down sobbing. For the past and the present—and for the potential future, given this low point in human history. BlacKkKlansman so vividly and powerfully captures our attention, taking us right up to the brink of hope before abruptly pulling us back down to reality; where racism is very much alive and well, where former KKK grand wizard David Duke can appear publicly, without fear, where protesters are run down for daring to point out that Black Lives Matter and where non-white Americans struggle daily for their very humanity. America first? Fuck you.
John David Washington (Ballers) is Ron Stallworth, the real-life Colorado Springs detective who, in 1979, infiltrated the ranks of a local KKK chapter by simply making phone calls to local white supremacists and even David Duke himself (Topher Grace). Jewish officer Phillip Zimmerman (played here by Girls and Star Wars alum Adam Driver) poses as Stallworth for in-person goings on, and the small investigative team uncovers and thwarts an assassination attempt on a black student activist (Laura Harrier of Spiderman: Homecoming). It's a fascinating bit of American history and the actual Stallworth even penned a book about it (Black Klansman: A Memoir)—though Lee's version is dramaticized. Before now, however, Stallworth's story was ultimately relegated to the trivia pile for most Americans. Hopefully this film changes that.
Washington is electric as Stallworth, his lifelong desire to be a cop at odds with his burgeoning radicalism. Can change occur from the inside? Maybe so. Harrier wows as well, a strong black woman with a penchant for subtle vulnerability and a streak of well-earned rage. Even the white guys (some of 'em, anyhow) start to get it as best they can, but the racism rampant on the streets of Colorado Springs and within Stallworth's department itself is shockingly casual—conditioned, maybe, but no less ugly. That casual hate grows bolder throughout the film, starting at something about how the Klan "is non-violent" and culminating in cross-burning and explosives among intense, heartbreaking, powerfully delivered lessons in black history. Corey Hawkins as Kwame Ture alone is worth watching.
But it's not all heavy doom and gloom. There is pain, shock and awe, yes, but artfully chosen moments of levity punctuate the more challenging elements and the editing and pacing are damn near perfect. And we should never look away, even if BlacKkKlansman proves hard to watch—especially for white people, and rightly so. If the events of Charlottesville or the similar re-rise of no-longer-afraid white supremacists haven't clued you in to how the fight must continue, perhaps pop culture will. Either way, there's a lot to learn and a lot to consider here thanks to Lee's masterful filmmaking and the real Stallworth's incredible achievements.
+Important history lesson; brilliant performances
-We literally have nothing bad to say
Directed by Lee
With Washington, Driver, Harrier and Grace
Violet Crown, Regal, R, 135 min.