Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Blackkklansman review

It's been a  week after the United the Right 2 rally which is a march of white racists in Washington, D.C. It's the second iteration of this protest after last year's riots in Charlottesville, Virginia where American Nazis, and racists marched. One woman who opposed the racists was killed by one of them. She was white and her name was Heather Heyer. Conservative Republican President Trump said of the riots between racists and antt-racists that there were "very fine people on both sides." (USA Today) In making Blackkklansman, director and writer Spike Lee knows the current events surrounding his film about a black police officer infiltrating the Klu Klux Klan in the seventies. To him, the racism that existed back then is still with us. It's enabled by Trump. Lee makes this message subtly and sometimes as loud as jazz sermon by Gil Scott- Heron.

It's the seventies, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) becomes the first African American police officer on the Colorado Springs police force. Washington is excellent here as a black man who wants to protect the public as a cop. And in case you ddidn't know it, he's the son of Denzel Washington and was a former professional football player. I'm glad for the art of acting that he hung up his cleats as there is a bright future for him as a thespian.

Stallworth's first job is to infiltrate the local college's black student union when they bring in Kwame Ture. (Core Hawkins) The police fear that the African Americans may turn violent. Of course, through history we know that was not the case. They were about black empowerment. He meets Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) and starts a personal relationship with her. She's black, beautiful and smart.

At the station, Stallworth notices a want ad for recruits to the Klu Klux Klan. He calls it, pretending to be a black and Jew hating white man. He convinces his bosses that with the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish officer, they can infiltrate the local Klan and investigate if they are planning any illegal activities. Driver is quite good as the unsure partner wondering if they can pull it off.

Along the way, Stallworth actually gets to make contact with the national head of the Klan, David Duke. (Topher Grace) Grace is ions away from his starring role on the sitcom That 70's Show. Grace's Duke is spot on. He's like the real Duke. Charming and corporate. Still full of malice and hatred. Zimmerman meets other Klansmen, all full of hatred for blacks and Jews. One in particular, Felix played by Finnish actor Jasper Paakkonen, displays a frightening menace. It's a remarkable performance because you would have never guessed that he was Finnish by listening to his American accent.

Lee and writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, say many things about racism in their screenplay. If you compare the African American students' activism with the Klan,, the differences are stark. Whereas the students yearn for freedom and black empowerment, they are not violent. Whereas the Klan's hatred for blacks grows into violence. Of course the Klan has always had a history of violence. And as I have pointed out, the writers are making the point that racism is alive and well. It's enabled by Trump. That's because this movie features David Duke and includes a clip of him at the Charlottesville rally. Trump's comments are also in the movie. And let's face it folks. There are literally GOP candidates who are racists. (Vox article) And you will get a chills down your spine when you hear the Klansmen chant, "America First." That was one of the mottos of the Trump campaign. It's hard to stomach as the racists root on the violence against blacks depicted in "The Birth of a Nation." (1915) They treat it like a sporting event. What's even more curious is that the Klan has a discriminatory attitude towards the women. In the movie, women are treated as second class citizens.

The film does take some time with humor  to depict the idiocy of racism. It's often depicted as Stallworth over the phone in a "white" accent starts to utter the hatred that Klansmen feel towards African Americans, gays and Jews. It's a nice break from the intense drama. Along with the depiction of odious racism, the movie works as a thriller. You see Zimmerman is often in danger of being discovered and likely to be killed. Also in danger are the black students.

Spike Lee is a painter as a director. Thankfully, he does not use camera gymnastics to maintain interest. His shots are well thought out. During a rally with Ture, Lee focuses on the African American faces. We hear the words as to why black is beautiful. It is indeed, beautiful to see. This is one of the many gorgeous shots that Lee frames. He doesn't get in the way of the story but lets it speak. Lee also puts in some fantastic soul music from the seventies to give the movie a feel for the time and place. One might fault this movie as being a little over the top but given the nature of the subject matter, it's a criticism that is subjective.

Blackkklansman is a powerful political film. It depicts racism as an evil that is ongoing. It is a racism that in the seventies wanted to be considered mainstream as we see Duke in a suit rather than a hood. It is a racism that continues in this day as the racists no longer disguise themselves in hoods but under the cover of "Make America Great Again." The America that Trump wants is one of the fifties where African Americans were second class citizens. Lee's masterpiece is a must see for this year and any other year if one is serious about thinking about racism in America. The grade is A.

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