Review: “BlacKkKlansman” Looks at the Similarities Between Racism in the 70s and Hate Groups Today

Photo: Quartz

The most recent film written and directed by Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X) left an impression on me, with both the power of its message and the performing ability of the actors. It’s based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer recruited to the Colorado Springs Police Department, and his assignment to infiltrate and gather intelligence on the Ku Klux Klan. It is a story drenched in history, and told with an energy possessed by none but Mr. Lee.

The artistic decisions made in this movie harken back to the aesthetic appeals of the early 70s. The soundtrack shifts from triumphant instrumentals to psychedelic electric guitar riffs to Soul Train era disco. Along with moccasins, afros, and Spike Lee’s signature color-saturated backgrounds, this movie is a perfect synthesis of groovy 70s aesthetic and sharp, contemporary filmmaking.

Speaking of Spike Lee’s filmmaking, his trademarks are strewn all over Blackkklansman. The abrupt cuts, the theme of overcoming racial injustice, even an opening sequence that signals for the audience to “WAKE UP.”

The cast picks were excellent. John David Washington, as Stallworth, embodied drive and charisma, the type of protagonist that showcases Spike Lee’s adept skills at defining his characters with dialogue. I was also impressed with the decision to cast Topher Grace (That 70’s Show, Spiderman 3) as former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke. His performance was very true to form, he spoke with the steady cadence of a politician and the hateful rhetoric of a Klan leader. In an interview with CNN, he recalls the hardest part about rehearsing and playing the role being “how absolutely depressing it was to spend that much time in a person’s head who’s so full of hate.”

Grace plays Duke as a politician, who’s strongest weapon is his ability to unite his followers under a hateful rhetoric. Blackkklansman’s examination of rhetoric as a tool of oppression is directly relevant to the political climate of today.

This movie not only addresses the existence of hate groups, but also the tender subject of police brutality, and the resulting attitudes of resentment towards law enforcement. Most notably, footage from the Charlottesville riots and the subsequent terror attack is shown near the end of the film. Spike Lee wanted to send a message: acts of hatred are not a thing of the past.
If you appreciate astute social commentary, energetic filmmaking, or if you just have a soft spot for tassels, then this movie is for you.

Verdict: 4.5 out of 5

Review by Caleb Barber

At a glance:

Director: Spike Lee
Producers: Spike Lee, Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Shaun Redick, Sean McKittrick, Raymond Mansfield
Writers: Spike Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins, Topher Grace, Jasper Paakkonen

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