Movie Review: BLACKkKLANSMAN (2018)

Quote from BLACKkKLANSMAN by Ron Stallworth: “With the right white man, we can do anything.”

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The Biggest Loaded Topics

It is obvious BLACKkKLANSMAN has significance for reasons relating to racial and social issues.  Race and racism have been and will continue to be a part of American history because let’s face it, the country was born and cultivated from both.  One of the core issues of today is the radically skewed distribution of power (wealth vs poverty, home ownership vs homelessness, educational opportunities vs lack thereof), but individually it can and does take on a more intimate role as found in this movie. 

This movie illustrates the hurdles of being a Black American including the influences and relationships with others, both similar and different.  There is Ron Stallworth: the first Black man on a small-town police force.  There is also Ron Stallworth: a rookie cop navigating his way through long-standing protocol and rules within the department and in society.  There is still another Ron Stallworth: a young Black man fighting for the Black cause.  Sometimes you have no choice but to make your own opportunities and that is what he did, and ever aware of the resistance by White America.  In other words, Stallworth was an individual trailblazer, never losing his grasp on his identity.

History often repeats itself as we have clearly seen in the last few years. It continues to boggle me how extreme views are still taught and used regarding race, but I recognize the historical aspects of it.  I wish more people would watch BLACKkKLANSMAN for the fact it reminds us how enormous we all carry this burden.  Yes, each person is responsible for his or her own path, despite what others throw at you, including the good and bad consequences of this.  Yes, each person shouldn’t lose the smaller picture (focus on the self) while trying to fight for the bigger picture (social injustices).  There will not be an easy answer to questions posed in this movie, but seeing it provides a glimpse into another realm some wouldn’t normally go (KKK) and the reality of the different viewpoints between and among the races.  This wasn’t just a cinematic achievement, but one that gets to the hard center of race relations and distribution of power.

The Nuts and Bolts

BLACKkLANSMAN is an adaptation from Ron Stallworth’s book and written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee.  It is directed by Spike Lee.  The story is about Ron Stallworth during his time with the Colorado Springs Police Department at the end of the 1970s.  After his detective promotion, he finds himself undercover, well half undercover in the KKK.  His other half is another detective, Flip Zimmerman, who is Jewish and can pull off being a “true White American.”  They work together on their assignment, getting closer to the Klan members, and even meeting David Duke.  The movie stars John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington) and Adam Driver as the undercover detectives.  It also stars Michael Buscemi (police officer), Laura Harrier (leader of Black Student Union), Corey Hawkins (Kwame Ture) , Alec Baldwin (Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard), Robert John Burke (police chief), Topher Grace (David Duke), Jasper Pääkkönen (KKK member), Ashlie Atkinson (KKK wife), and Ryan Eggold (KKK member).  It is a 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Blumhouse Productions, and Legendary Entertainment production.  It had the release date of August 10, 2018.  The MPAA rating is R for language including racial epithets, disturbing/violent material, and some sexual references.  It has a running time of 135 minutes.

A Solid Cast with a Solid Story

BLACKkKLANSMAN starts out with a short, but great performance by Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard.  He goes into a tirade about eugenics, White purity, and corruption by everyone else who is plotting against America.  The racist propaganda he spews is filtered throughout the movie by the different Klansmen and Klanswomen.  We then see Ron Stallworth, looking mighty stylish, as he interviews with the Colorado Springs Police Department.  He passes the short psychological test which is more how he will conduct himself in heated situations, and finds himself away from the streets and action he desires. After requesting to leave the boring filing department, he is finally given an assignment undercover.  It is here he meets a woman, Patrice, who is the passionate leader of the Black Student Union.  It is here he learns the line drawn between the police and black communities is becoming ever more visible.

Ron and Patrice form a bond, but not without questioning each other’s views.  They do agree on one thing and that is it is not right for any police officer to harass and threaten people just because of their skin color.  Ron disagrees with his co-worker, Flip, about the Black Panthers and decides to focus on the local activities of the KKK.  He sets a meeting with one of the Klan members and after a fly by the seat of the pants education, Flip meets the chapter president, Walter Breachway.  After the first meeting is done and information is digested within the police department, Flip goes back and gets deeper into the Klan activities.  The granddaddy of them all is when he meets David Duke at his initiation into the Klan. 

There is tense interaction between Stallworth and Duke while Flip is undercover.  You might be asking yourself how they meet when he is technically undercover, but it happens.  It is here that you see the makings of a Klan meeting and their message behind every symbol and word they speak.  It’s just another glorious day to celebrate White America to them.  The tone of the gathering becomes “lighter” as they eat and mingle with other members after Flip becomes a bonafide member.  Everyone has an agenda at this initiation, some more dangerous than others, but the cause must go on (from all angles) and it does.

When the assignment is officially closed, and the people involved have come to terms with the results (both sides), Ron can now right some other wrongs with the help of Patrice.  He steps away from the Klan, much to his disappointment, because he knows the KKK is still a threat to the Black community.  The movie ends with footage of the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia riot and those in the public/political spotlight who commented on the racial incident.  Much like the movie Higher Learning with the word “unlearn” at the end of it, the last image is an upside-down American flag.

The Good Ones Shined Nice and Bright, but So Did the Bad Ones

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Before this movie came out, I was standing in front of Topher Grace with his family in Coffee Bean.  I happened to turn around and saw him.  My first thought was jeez, he’s skinny and so is his wife.  The second thought was I can’t wait to see him as David Duke.  I then ordered my ice tea and went on my way.  I know it can be difficult to portray someone who is radically different from your own views.  I can’t commend him enough for the great performance he delivered.  When Topher Grace as David Duke spoke at the initiation of Flip, I was on the edge of my seat.  The performance by John David Washington was equally great.  He had this strong vulnerability he inserted into the real-life character of Ron Stallworth.  You could tell he was a man with strong ideals and stronger resolve to be viewed as a contributing member of society.  He wasn’t afraid and asked the right questions and challenged the wrong answers.  Jasper Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson, and Corey Hawkins were also integral parts of the movie.  These supporting roles as a paranoid Klan member, underused Klan wife, and Civil Rights activist propelled the movie’s ugliness into the deserved spotlight.

Not to Put Too Fine a Point on It

Spike Lee knew this movie’s purpose from the start.  He captures the essence of the complexities within the Black community.  He captures the essence of the Klan where at times I thought to myself that I can’t believe people do this and have fun doing it.  He captures the historical aspects of America and how it relates to today.  I recommend this movie because its message is tried and true, but the performances alone are of such high-caliber that it stands by itself too.  There was only two times I questioned the choices made in this movie.  The first was when Ron and Patrice see the burning cross.  It might be reference to the jarring intimidation, but it took me out of the scene for a bit.  It felt it more belonged in a Quentin Tarantino movie or a scene where your perception is altered, but again it was obviously meant to be a little jarring situation because it is.  The second was the Latino character, played by Nicholas Turturro, sitting at the table during the initiation of Flip.  Maybe, he was part White, so it didn’t matter, but just something I noticed.  It’s been known that people use other people to their benefit and maybe this was the case.  I will conclude in saying every penny I spent on my ticket was well worth it.  Go see BLACKkKLANSMAN.

Pisaries Creator’s Rating

I rate BLACKkKLANSMAN with Four Fingers and One Thumb at 99%.

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