Tuesday 7th August the Vue cinema in Leicester Square hosted a press view of Spike Lee’s last cinematic fatigue BlacKkKlansman. Based on the autobiographical book with the same title (Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, Random House, 2018) the film follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) who, in the early 1970s, is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Incensed with respectability policy, and determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on the dangerous mission of infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan.
With the help of his more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the “face” of the operation, Stallworth puts in motion a chain of events that reveals the complex and dangerous ramifications of the KKK, from the bottom to the top of the American society.
While the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream, and the Black Power burgeons among a new generation of activists, Stallworth and Zimmerman – and the audience along with them – discover how deeply and violently racism is entrenched into the very core of the US of A.
When cinematic icon Spike Lee first presented his film at Cannes Film Festival, BlacKkKlansman was welcomed with a standing ovation. Written and directed with Lee’s typical eye for the troublesome contradictions of the human soul, and his passion for both the grotesque and the irreverent, the directors combines police procedural drama, mockumentary and dark comedy into an explosive and often violent film.
The film opens with the notorious “train yard scene” in Gone with The Wind, immediately followed by an incredible montage of Alec Baldwin’s Dr Kennebrew Beauregard and his attempt to “make America white again”. Throughout its two hours and counting of racial slurs, nationalist rhetoric, guns, toxic masculinity and borderline characters, BlacKkKlansman masterfully tackles the same mechanisms that allowed Donald Trump’s victory in 2016: it doesn’t really matter how caricatural and ridiculous those characters are, they’re part of a complex engine that works incessantly in order to establish itself in the realm of legitimacy. For every uneducated, simple minded white supremacist in USA, there is a man who’s climbing the ladder of respectability.
Racism is not an accidental fault, it lies at the very beating heart of America. Racism, the film warns us, has as much to do with the N-word and lynching than it has with the stale rhetoric of nostalgia for a – white – past that never was. Racism, Harry Belafonte’s intense cameo tells us towards the end, doesn’t simply stain the hands of who kills, but also the hands of who stands at the margins, and does nothing.
With his typical irony and cleverness, Lee drives the audience from uncontrollable laughter to incredulity, to rage, to pain, down to a hurting silence in the end, when the safe space between cinema and reality crushes, and the screen metaphorically breaks and falls into the voracious persistence of white supremacy today. Stallworth’s journey through the unspeakable ordinariness of racism and the respectable facade of hatred and violence is the journey of us all, strongly forced to acknowledge the pressing needs to fight back, both the visible and disguised pantomime of racism.
Timeless and almost painfully contemporary, BlacKkKlansman speaks both to America’s shocking past and its worrisome present, it holds back no punches and takes no prisoners: if the horrific recent events did not speak loud enough, surely the last scene does, reminding us that there’s no place for neutrality, obliviousness and self-absolving mumbo jumbo. Dystopia is today.
Produced by the team behind the Academy-Award (R) winning Get Out.
BlacKkklansman is released on August 24th Special nationwide screenings + Live Satellite Q&A with Spike Lee on August 20th www.BlackkklansmanScreening.co.uk