Nightmarish Detour Review: BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)

Today’s political landscape is nothing short of a nightmare scenario. Donald Trump, his henchmen, and his sycophants are wreaking havoc, dancing all over the constitution while destroying all the progress we’ve made over the past, I don’t know, century? People usually say that one shouldn’t talk about politics, it’s impolite, and leads to nothing but trouble. At this point in history, however, FUCK THAT NOISE.

BLACKKKLANSMAN is the latest Spike Lee joint to grace the screen, and from start to finish, it is unmistakably Spike. The dialogue, the music, that classic Spike Lee tracking shot, it’s all in there. It also revisits the vintage black anger that has simmered under the surface in a lot of his later work (excluding When The Levee Breaks and Chiraq), instead coming to a full boil as it does in his classic films such as Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X. The film, and its voice, couldn’t have come along at a better time, and this is not by accident.

The whole film, though based on a true story that took place in mid-70’s Colorado, is a scathing indictment of President Trump and the shocking resurgence of white-power hate groups that has happened since his election. The phrase “Make America Great Again” is used several times, straight from the mouth of Klansmen. I’m sure that this film will piss off a lot of Trump’s followers but they are the ones who need to see it more than anyone else.

Something I have always believed, since I became old enough to observe the ebbs and flows of history, is that our country has an exceptionally short memory. People scream about the dangers of socialism when it was Democratic Socialism under the supervision of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that rescued our country from the Great Depression. There are people who say that black people/immigrants/other non-whites get all the advantages through programs like Affirmative Action when in the past these same people were enslaved, beaten, killed, and treated like animals by white people for hundreds of years.

I feel as though BLACKKKLANSMAN encapsulates all of these themes in one hilarious yet heartbreaking hard-to-swallow pill. The basic plot of the movie focuses on one Colorado Springs rookie police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel; Ballers) and his grand plans to make a difference in his town. Not long after starting out in the records room, Stallworth asks Chief Bridges (played by John Robert Burke, who amongst other things, plays IAB chief Ed Tucker in my beloved long time favorite show Law & Order SVU) if he can become an undercover detective.

The Chief initially seems to blow off the request but then not too soon after, Stallworth is asked to go undercover at a Stokely Carmichael speaking engagement to make sure that the “black folk” don’t get any ideas. For those of you who don’t know, Stokely Carmichael (who later changed his name to Kwame Ture, which is illustrated in the film) was a prominent black leader in the late 60’s and early 70’s. J. Edgar Hoover once stated that he believed Carmichael to be the legitimate successor to Malcolm X as the “black messiah” for those involved in the Black Power movement.

Kawme Ture (played in the film by Corey Hawkins; Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) gives a rousing speech for the University of Colorado Black Student Union, which is led by Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier; Spider-Man: Homecoming). Ron takes a liking to Patrice and they start to go out. Meanwhile, he doesn’t tell Patrice he’s a cop, because, in the black power movement, cops are pigs.

After the Kwame Ture speech, Ron Stallworth is moved to the intelligence unit, which has been his dream since the beginning of his time at the Colorado Springs Police Department. The two main detectives of the Intelligence Unit are Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver, who I’m not even going to tell you what he’s in because if you don’t know by now, I don’t even know what to say) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi, Steve’s brother and Adam Sandler film regular). Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito; Summer of Sam, The Heights) is the leader of the unit, and for a white guy in the 70’s Midwest, he’s pretty progressive.

As a detective, Stallworth figures out his first assignment right away. Inspired by Ture and Patrice, he decides to target the KKK after he sees an advertisement in the paper that’s recruiting members. He gets the local chapter president, Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold; The Blacklist, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby) on the phone almost immediately. Stallworth pretends to be interested in joining the Klan, or as they like to call it, “The Organization”, and he quickly gets invited to a bar to meet with the local chapter. Obviously the big problem with this is that Ron Stallworth is black, so Ron asks Flip to play Ron in real life while Ron continues to play him on the phone.

The operation goes pretty damn far, up to and including Ron speaking at length on the phone over the course of several weeks to the Grand Wizard, I mean, National Director of “The Organization”, David Duke (played to a hilariously awful perfection by Topher Grace of That 70’s Show and Spiderman 3 fame). There are many times where both Ron and Flip are almost caught in their ruse, and things get more and more dangerous. The “brothers” of “The Organization” in general admire “Ron” but one member, the spectacularly seedy and creepy Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen; Vikings) seems to know something is up and suspects “Ron” of being Jewish, which Flip, the real person, is.

I wont do any more plot exposition but the ending is satisfying and then absolutely soul-crushing, I was practically weeping when exiting the screening room. There are so many layers of social commentary in this film. From anti-semitism to “passing” (as both a Jewish or a black person), Institutionalized racism to xenophobia, BLACKKKLANSMAN finds the elephants in the room and shoots them to death. The language and jokes in this movie are borderline disturbing because they lay bare the honest truth about what happens behind the closed doors of racists.

Once again, this film is important because it shows us that the same things that have happened in this country since its inception continue to happen, even though a lot of people fail to acknowledge this fact. Racism, particularly of the institutionalized variety, is not only prevalent; it’s basically the hottest American commodity other than sexism and war. The film pulls no punches and it’s good because that’s exactly what we need right now. It’s incredibly powerful and as a white person, you SHOULD be squirming in your seat with discomfort because the rampant racism and unfair treatment of non-whites is something that most of us just sit by and let happen. I’m hoping that people of all races feel emboldened by the film to at least attempt to make a change in the world.

Spike Lee should be very proud of this film, I’m proud of him for it. I hope to God that he gets nominated for an Oscar for this film and (this time) actually wins it! Not holding my breath because of his relationship with the Academy, but still, BLACKKKLANSMAN is a modern filmmaking masterpiece. It comes to theaters Friday, August 10th, 2018. Go See It!

Lorry Kikta
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