This review was first published on 31 Aug 2018 with the theatrical release of the film. BlacKkKlansman is now available to stream on Showmax.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: Infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman, into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organisation aims to sanitise its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
BlacKkKlansman is more than your average big studio film, which is so often designed to be watched and easily digested by a mass market that doesn’t want to be challenged while it enjoys its popcorn but rather entertained in the broadest sense of the word. It is a smart, deliberate and tough watch that not only captures a society at odds with itself but shows how racism is at the foundation of most public institutions, like the police.
It should come as no surprise that it is helmed by Spike Lee, a man who has never shied away from holding a mirror up to a world that so often threw it back in his face with vitriol.
With BlacKkKlansman, Lee has created an honest and arresting portrait of insidious bigotry. This is a refreshingly new and direct approach – at least in mainstream cinema - to an important timeous dialogue that is so often marred by reductive arguments around power dynamics, gender and sex that are only meant to derail.
This film’s nuanced arguments might be ignored by most because they are mixed with bigger and bolder cultural references that culminate in gut-wrenching moments of tension that can sometimes be tough to get through but are most certainly worth it.
It is because of all of these factors that I totally agree with The New York Times which famously called this film: “His (Lee’s) best non-documentary feature in more than a decade and one of his greatest.”
What makes the narrative created by the veteran filmmaker (even more) jarring is that it is based on a true story featuring real-life white nationalists who have said and done atrocious things with absolutely no remorse and who were protected by those in power.
The film is based on Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth, who is played by John David Washington on the big screen. Washington is an adequate lead in this important piece of cinema that is about more than one actor or actress.
The best thing about this film is that it is uncompromising in the delivery of its message: America is racist. On every level. Throughout history and especially today.
A lot of South Africans might feel like they can’t relate to this provincial story or that it is not for everyone to go to the cinema and watch. I would however disagree with that and say that this story is directly translatable into the South African experience. Our racists do not have to hide their faces behind white sheets or have secret organisations that infiltrate government, in our nation’s case it was, of course, all legal under Apartheid which means that a lot of the worst things that happened were overseen and even done by the police themselves. A lot of the effects of which we are still unpacking today.
Watch this film. It won’t be easy. But I think you might see the world in a different way when you’re done. At least I certainly did.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: