★★★ / ★★★★
Director Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is correct to be frightening, disgusting, eye-opening, and entertaining all at once because the subjects it broaches and explores, all falling under the umbrella of racism in modern America and our relationship with it, are meant to give us indigestion—so to speak—a strong visceral reaction of having experienced something we are not supposed to because it might be considered not kosher, or that it is offensive, or too extreme. But that’s exactly what I loved about the film, both in its vision and final product, because it strives to paint a complicated portrait of where America is right now through the scope of a real-life investigation that took place in 1970s. You will not walk away from this film without an opinion.
It has been a while since I felt the veteran director being so free with his craft, from the utilization of archival footages, dramatic but out of place music, shots clearly inspired by blaxploitation pictures, to fusing two genres with seeming ease. And yet the material commands cohesion. It does not rely solely on the comedy which involves Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrating the terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan’s local chapter in Colorado Springs. Instead, for instance, it also touches upon the dichotomy of Stallworth being a cop whose goal is to make real changes in a police station that tolerates racists—one of the cops is so proud of killing an innocent black teenager, he actually brags about it like it is some sort of achievement.
I enjoyed that the material exposes the main character’s blind spots and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that these blind spots need not be changed throughout the film’s duration. It is enough for the screenplay to acknowledge them and then trusting the audience to look inside ourselves and consider our own foibles. For example, at some point, I could not help but think about being an immigrant teenager who yearned to belong in America—white America, to be exact—so much so that for years I felt ashamed of my culture, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, my accent, down the food I took to the school’s lunch table for everybody to see, smell, and ask questions about. To me, the material is so potent that it actually brought me back to when I felt insecure about my cultural identity.
And therein lies its greatest strength: Although it is a film told from a black perspective—in terms of original material, screenplay, and direction—it remains relevant to everyone who has felt like a minority. The institutional racism in America is so pervasive, it is almost inescapable; if it doesn’t erase us, we strive to erase ourselves in order to blend into the white.
Certainly the picture can be criticized over pacing issues, but its energy is taken on such a high gear that awkward pacing that leads to undercooked relationships, like Stallworth’s blossoming romantic connection to Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), Colorado College’s Black Student Union president, remains interesting nonetheless. Washington and Dumas share such smooth chemistry, I wished there were a movie of their characters simply talking about random things, like black music or black films, and perhaps even discussing serious issues like white fears in an increasingly multicultural, multicolored America.
I admired its use of language. It employs nearly every derogatory word and phrase not because it can but because we are meant to react to them. And, if, somehow, you find yourself inured to these defamatory and really vile language, it is a clue to get an education, an appreciation of the history of these words and why they are not okay to use. No, it is not just because people are being “snowflakes” or “the freedom of speech is being threatened.” The internet is at your fingertips.