The significance of Spike Lee’s latest venture BlacKkKlansman, lies in equal parts between its thought-provoking content at face value, and the national context it’s being released within.
Pre-Charlottesville and pre-2016 election, a story like that portrayed in BlacKkKlansman would not hold the weight that it does today. The film’s active awareness of its familiar themes could’ve easily turned into to being a constant cheap wink to audiences. Instead of allowing this to happen BlacKkKlansman skillfully utilizes its funny and clever outer layer to deliver the haunting, familiar truths that lie beneath.
Based on a true story, the movie follows black rookie cop, Ron Stallworth, as he joins the Colorado Springs Police Department. Here, he soon finds himself working in an undercover sting operation to bring down the Ku Klux Klan. Audiences are led through a whirlwind infiltration of the hate group in the 1970s, in a story that feels almost too bizarre to be true.
The film is led by a breakout performance from John David Washington as Ron Stallworth. Washington’s comedic timing elicits some of the film’s funniest moments and adds another layer to an overall solid performance.
The on-screen dynamic between Washington, Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman) and Michael Buscemi also served as a major highlight of the film. Topher Grace, famously known for his uber-likable performance on another 70s era project, completely transforms in his role as KKK leader David Duke. In a performance that will be sure to make audiences appropriately uncomfortable, Grace gives Duke an unsettlingly friendly demeanor that also manages to be filled with hate.
One of the film’s greatest strengths lies in how it showcases different perspectives. It artfully showcases multiple layers of America’s complicated relationship with race. On one hand there is a focus on law enforcement and how they serve to protect, but on the other hand, the film also makes a point to address police brutality. The film also features prominent black figures working towards change, who still manage to clash with the police working on their side. This opposing relationship in the film is a significant one, as it does prompt the question of who the good guys really are. With the bad guys, however, BlacKkKlansman profiles hate groups without allowing them too much empathy, and without working too hard to find the reasoning behind how they got to be that way.
In the age of revitalized hate groups, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman comes at the perfect time, and the film is fully aware of this. Its vintage energy perfectly incorporates modern messages and comments on the country’s current state in a not so subtle manner, and with the alarming relevance of the piece, there’s no real need for subtlety.
The film hits theaters this Friday.