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Film review: BLACKkKLANSMAN

April 8, 2019

Brooklyn born director Spike Lee, known for his hot-headed racially charged themed films, has given us one of his most critically acclaimed offerings with BlacKkKlansman. Based on a true incident, Lee has presented an intriguing and disturbing tale of an African American police officer in the 1970’s, who posed as a white supremacist after seeing an advertisement for Klu Klux Klan (KKK) recruitees. While not his initial intention, it ended up becoming a legitimate investigation into the KKK movement in the Colorado Springs district.

Ron Stallworth, engaged in phone only discussions with members of the KKK, including the Grand Wizard, was a Republican State Representative and when required to front up in person, a white police officer was briefed and took Stallworth’s place. As absurd and risky as it sounds, the main objective was to find out about Klan activism that might involve cross burnings and any other bigoted activities that could stir up trouble in the community - or even possibly incite other violent acts in retaliation.

John David Washington—Denzel Washington’s son—plays Stallworth and it appears that he has inherited his father’s acting talent and he is a mesmerising presence. Playing a law enforcement officer, must have the right mix of stoic and controlled guise, which understandably comes with the role. It also needs to subtly convey layers of emotional human depth, so the audience can be on the side of a character that can often get maligned due to the nature of the profession. Washington is very believable and gives an intelligent and assured performance, that is also imbued with a spice of cheeky humour, keeping the mood with the context of the 70’s era.

Washington’s co-star Adam Driver plays Flip, the white officer who is working alongside Stallworth and is the front-up man for him. Driver earned himself a recent support actor Academy Award ® nomination for his turn here. He is just as much an imposing presence as Washington. His character is what adds most of the tension to the film, as he is the imposter into the cabal of the KKK and needs to keep himself in character so his cover isn’t blown. The film’s script has taken some dramatic liberties with the story and as portrayed in the film - Flip is Jewish, his real-life persona was not. This creates some ambivalent feelings within Flip himself and his interactions with these extreme idealists that are operating from hate and ignorance.

For creative\artistic purposes, Lee has set the film in the early part of the 70’s, rather than the latter, as it happened in real life. Other events have also been exaggerated for dramatic license, but films are not ‘real’ life and within the context and message of the film, these things are negligible. Spike Lee has made a powerful and entertaining film and any political edged themed film can often invoke ambivalent feelings in the viewer. Lee has been careful and balanced with his approach and wisely shows the political activism of the Black Power Movement of the era.