Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is unashamedly made for Trump's Americaby James Robins
Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read
In BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee's latest drama based on a true story, a black cop infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan.
Now we have BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X), a fierce and fiery drama based on the true story of black Colorado cop Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington, son of Denzel), who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and had his membership personally signed and approved by the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (Topher Grace), last seen running for the US Senate in 2016.
Riffing on the blaxploitation pictures of the 70s – celluloid heat and energetic grooves – Lee’s film is both subversively hilarious and utterly uncompromising. Pleasures here are very guilty indeed.
Just witness Ron on the phone to Duke, putting on a pompous white-man voice, telling him just how much he hates the blacks and Jews. Or when he sends fellow cop Flip (Adam Driver) to Klan meetings to impersonate Ron’s rancorous creation. Though, as a Jew, Flip is no more suited to the task.
Which leads to a moment that epitomises the film’s simultaneous horror and humour: Flip, hooked up to a lie detector by white supremacist lackey Felix (Jasper Pääkkönen), having an argument about whether the Holocaust was a fraud or a beautiful and enviable thing.
Here we get to an irony: fascism is a pressing danger while also being eminently silly, its leading figures worthy of mockery and ridicule. Of course, Lee could never get away with it if it wasn’t for Ron’s subterfuge; if it wasn’t for a greater good.
But there are many things Lee doesn’t get away with. He doesn’t quite have the courage to let his art speak for itself. He sacrifices narrative drama for documentary prescience. There’s a bomb plot present, yet we never feel any hint of tension. Lee is too busy trying to pack in as many allusions to the current era as he can.
To be sure, his purpose is polemic; to reflect back at us an earlier moment of racist fracture and point out that era’s parallels to the present. The result, in the end, is didactic and hectoring. By the time we get to a room of Klansmen chanting “America First!”, the point has already been taken, and a pre-credits sequence of footage from the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville last year, which left one counter protester dead, feels like overkill.
Video: Focus Features
IN CINEMAS NOW
This article was first published in the August 18, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
You've got to give it to Sensing Murder, never has a show spun out so little content into hours of complete crap.Read more
The owner of The Jefferson has taken over cafe-bar Imperial Lane and refreshed it with a new look and a new menu.Read more
The Green Party leadership have dug in their heels and won't be reversing any of the decisions they have made in government.Read more
In Kay Mellor’s new drama, sweetness and light meet bitterness and pedantry.Read more
A 27-year-old man is obsessed with a nine-year-old girl … it's Lolita, of course, but Sofka Zinovieff's main character is no Humbert Humbert.Read more
A new book explores some of the most bizarre quirks of heredity.Read more
After months of controversy, Jacqueline Rowarth’s tenure at the Environmental Protection Authority came to a sudden end.Read more
TVNZ journo Ian Sinclair is going from the screen to the stage.Read more