We’re a little over a year and a half into 45’s presidency, which means moviegoers are now able to see his effect on today’s America on screen. A couple of commentaries have been made recently, such as all-over-the-place Sorry to Bother You and the more “traditional” (but still edgy) Blindspotting. With those two films kicking off a Hollywood anti-President campaign, it wasn’t surprising Spike Lee would have a say. After all, racial and social commentary is his strength, although over the years his films seemed to spit more nonsensical rhetoric than anything.

BlacKkKlansman, the true story of a black police officer infiltrating the Klu Klux Klan, sees a focused and determined Lee. Co-written by Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman is based on the non-fiction book written by Ron Stallworth. Stallworth (played by John David Washington) was the first African-American police officer and detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, and he posed as a white man in order to expose the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. He talked to members on the phone while his partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) would pose as the white Ron. Together they were able to thwart what would today be considered a terrorist threat, while simultaneously embarrassing the KKK’s leader, David Duke (Topher Grace).

For the most part, BlacKkKlansman is a satire but there is plenty of serious commentary contained within its 135-minute running time. There are obvious issues which Lee tackles – organized and systemic racism; police brutality; the complexities of being a black police officer; separating personal ideals from job requirements; and even denying one’s ethnicity and culture. All of them are tackled in different ways with varying degrees of success. But Lee’s touch allows BlacKkKlansman to flow swimmingly despite the fact Ron and his love interest, militant black college student leader Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), are living disrupted lives.

With its themes clearly visible today (Stallworth first contacted the KKK in 1979), Lee doesn’t hesitate to link the two eras. This is a bit of a spoiler, but before the final credits Lee inserts news footage of the 2017 events in Charlottesville – tiki torches and all. Lee included footage of 45’s comments on the rioting which took place, and even a David Duke interview makes an appearance. But no one will forget the car that drove into a group of counterprotesters, injuring dozens and taking the life of young Heather Heyer.

With those horrific images ingrained in our consciousness, it’s interesting to note the film’s scariest moment – Ron, during a conversation with his superior, Sergeant Trapp (Ken Garito), laughs off Trapp’s assertion that America will someday elect a racist leader, because with David Duke the KKK is pushing their philosophy towards politics and other mainstream platforms. Clearly this is a jab at 45, and when Ron dismissively laughs it off Trapp claps back with, “For a black man, you’re being naive.” What makes this so impactful is that the naivety applies to all of us, not just Ron.

Shifting back to BlacKkKlansman’s filmmaking merits, Washington and Driver provide fantastic performances. If Washington looks familiar it’s because his father is Oscar winner Denzel Washington. Washington had to juggle the complexities Ron endured (a black police officer who’s disliked by both cops and citizens), and finding that balance was difficult. Clearly son has learned much from his father, but John David Washington is memorable and exudes a charm all his own.

Driver, in the meantime, is also exceptional as Flip. Flip is Jewish, an ethnicity which the KKK, um, isn’t quite warm on. Flip posed as Ron during face-to-face meetings with chapter leader Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) and the other members (which included a magnificently terrifying Jasper Pääkkönen as distrusting wildcard Felix Kendrickson), which meant he was routinely going into the lion’s den. Flip is an interesting study in his own right because he’s denied his heritage while growing up, yet going undercover meant hiding his ethnicity would be the difference between life and death. Driver plays Flip with a cool calmness, a result of his past experience playing conflicted individuals.

Those believing Spike Lee’s washed up and his last great film was 1989’s Do the Right Thing would be wrong to keep believing as much after this effort. BlacKkKlansman is some of Lee’s most powerful work and will serve as a passionate conversation starter. Lee will never be washed up because he comments on issues that haven’t died… and sadly won’t die anytime soon.

4.5 stars out of 5


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