I join my nephew John Hammerle, a lawyer and movie reviewer in Chicago, in describing BlacKkKlansman as the best film released to this date in 2018.
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a powerful film on multiple levels. Taking place in the 1970’s, it tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs whose dedication leads him to infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan. Supported by a soundtrack that adds to the emotional power of the film, director Lee shines his camera on the underbelly of life in our country that has significant meaning to this very day.
John David Washington, the son of Denzel, gives an Oscar worthy performance as Officer Stallworth, a dedicated professional who fights racism both in his office and on the street. In the process, he is assigned to go undercover on a college campus where Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), then known as Kwame Ture, is giving a speech to a group of largely black students and supporters. Trying to determine if the man who popularized the phrase “Black Power” is fomenting violence, Stallworth begins a charming personal relationship with Patrice Dumas, wonderfully played by Laura Harrier, the President of the Black Student Union at Colorado College.
Stallworth’s imaginative drive leads him beginning phone conversations with a representative of the Klan that results in actual communication with Klan leader David Duke (Topher Grace). His racist exchanges with these hateful characters are so incredibly vile that it will leave you as stunned in your seat as his fellow officers who were listening at their nearby desks.
In the process, Stallworth arranges a meeting with the Klan where the very talented Adam Driver becomes his alter ego. In a sense, this moment reminded me of Sorry to Bother You where a black man had to use his white voice to succeed in business. Mr. Driver, who recently displayed his admirable talents as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, keeps you riveted as he infiltrates the Klan, developing a relationship with members played with contemptible force by Jasper Pääkkönen, Ryan Eggold and Paul Walter Houser. Houser finds a way to bring a bit of humor to an otherwise detestable human being in much the same style as he did playing Tonya Harding’s bodyguard in last year’s I, Tonya.
What makes this film so mesmerizing is the bold manner in which Mr. Lee exposes the reality of racism in a country known as the land of the free and the home of the brave. He boldly shows a clip from Gone with the Wind (1939) where Confederate soldiers were honored in a gigantic scene showing thousands of them laying wounded near a railroad yard in Atlanta under a torn Confederate flag. He follows it up with daring clips from D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915), a startlingly racist film that was honored at the time by President Woodrow Wilson that painted black slaves as interested in little more than assaulting and raping white women.
But Lee doesn’t stop there, Harry Belafonte will take your breath away playing an elderly man (he is actually 90) as he addresses a small group with a horrifying experience from his childhood where a friend was brutally tortured, mutilated and hung by a white crowd. He then shines his camera with deserving contempt on our President for finding fault on both sides of last year’s tragedy at Charlottesville where white nationalists attacked a group of protestors that resulted in one young woman dying after a car intentionally slammed into a crowd.
As the film concluded with many members of the audience clapping, I had to stay in my seat for a moment, overcome with the reality that racism is alive and well throughout our land. While I have come to know a lot of great police officers over the years that I truly admire, the black citizens in Colorado Springs that you see beaten and attacked by various police officers was simply a reflection of what is taking place from Baltimore to Chicago to Los Angeles.
That is precisely why I proudly support NFL players who want to quietly take a knee during the national anthem. Sure, our white President hates that, but so do nearly all of the NFL owners who are also white. Additionally, while the Civil War brought an end to forcing African Americans to pick cotton on plantations, nearly 75% of all football and basketball players on a college and pro level are black, while the stands in each stadium are over 90% white. Like it or not, the great bulk of those condemning kneeling before a game are motivated by the singular desire to have the players shut up and entertain us. In many ways it resembles watching captives battle to the death in the Roman Colosseum centuries ago.
I want to end by referring to the fact that while our President and his supporters urge NFL players to attack racial injustice off the field, look how Lebron James was smeared for doing that very thing. With one of our President’s most vocal supporters being the Klan’s David Duke, all of you should see this movie and be reminded how we should be concerned about the direction our country is taking.