If you need a testament as to the timeliness of BlacKkKlansman, a 70s set period piece about deep rooted racism and how it permeates all levels of society, I will give it to you.
I went to see it in a small town cinema on a rainy evening. The film has been playing for maybe 45 minutes and after a scene involving a black civil rights speaker motivating his audience to respect themselves followed immediately by a scene poking fun at David Duke (the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan), a young white woman to my left said to her boyfriend “I’m not listening to this shit anymore” and stormed out, followed by her beau.
It’s this type of behaviour that makes a Spike Lee Joint as relevant and necessary today as the 80s when he was just coming up. And perhaps the most pertinent point of reference to how far society has yet to travel on its road to acceptance and equality, is looking back over Lee’s filmography and seeing that the same problems exist today as did 10, 20, 30 years ago.
And yet BlacKkKlansman delivers as much of a comedic punch as it does dramatic. Yes it speaks of endemic racism, but it does so through the eyes of a black police officer (the first black police officer in his Colorado town) who has a wholly unique take on the situation, and who stakes his career and reputation on infiltrating a white power group.
That’s right. A black police officer made his name by embedding himself in the KKK. It sounds so ludicrous that it could only be dreamed up by Hollywood. But no, it’s true. Officer Ron Stallworth, using a white colleague as his proxy to attend KKK meetings but otherwise doing much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes (in letters and phone calls to senior Klan officials) became not just a respected member of his local Klan, but earned the respect of its most senior leaders.
So yes, BlacKkKlansman is at times farcical in ways which generate more laugh-out-loud moments than most out-and-out comedies. But it’s also violent, angry, upsetting and downright tragic.
It’s hard to say too much more without getting into spoilery specifics, sufficed to say it is a film that leaves its message emblazoned on you. Lee has a natural gift for exploring such complex issues in a way which is both accessible and searingly visceral, and BlacKkKlansman is no exception.
This is an important film; a film that is perhaps Lee’s best since Do The Right Thing. It reveals in no uncertain terms that the world around us is much less progressive than we oftentimes try to acknowledge. There are still lots of people who don’t want to “listen to this shit”. And whether through blind ignorance or real hate, they are many. It is a sad truth and one that we must stand against in the spirit of togetherness.