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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday June 20th 2024

Movie Corner


(2018) Biography/Comedy/Crime
5/5 Stars

Ron Stallworth writes a memoir, “Black Klansman,” the basis for Spike’s provocative new film “BlacKkKlansman,” a true story, though it seems fictional in almost all aspects. Interestingly enough, one of the producers is Jordan Peele, director of the terrific horror/ dark comedy “Get Out” (nominated for Best Picture and Peele becomes the first African American to win Original Screenplay).

Unlike Lee’s bumbling, disappointing film “Chi-Raq” (2015), this new film, “BlacKkKlansman,” merges break-out funny and profound seriousness very well; one of Lee’s better movies. His opening scene is a clip from “Gone with the Wind” (the first color film to win Best Picture) as Scarlett (Vivien Leigh) is walking through the Confederate wounded and dead swings into Alec Baldwin, playing a white supremacist, citing why Blacks are an inferior race and integration a dangerous move to destroy the republic instigated by the Communists.

John David Washington, son of veteran actor Denzil Washington, plays Ron Stallworth , the real man (he’s still living) who becomes the first African American to join the Colorado Springs police department in the early 1970s. At first, Ron is placed in the record room simply drumming up files for other officers. Almost immediately a white officer pokes at him with racist jibes, but he doesn’t take the bait. Chief Bridges (John Burke) asks Ron to be an undercover man (this job has proven dangerous, even deadly, when a black or brown officer can be mistaken to be the criminal by white officers) starting off with him doing something almost impossible””infiltrating the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. Is this really happening or is this the unlucky practical joke? How can one pull this “caper” off? A Black man going to a Klan meeting and being one of the boys? Not in with this lily-white fraternity.

Ron calls one of the Klan leaders, Walter (Ryan Eggold), mistakenly gives him his real name. Walter is enthusiastic about the caller he assumes is white, since Ron puts on the “white” voice telling Walter he hates Jews, Italians, Mexicans, but the Blacks are the worst scum around. The setup is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” [2017], “Midnight Special” [2016], “Paterson” [2016], “Silence” [2016], “Inside Llewyn Davis” [2013], “Lincoln” [2012]), white, is “Ron” who meets with the Klan; the real Ron, African American, communicates with Walter only on the telephone. Flip has a wire on him at all times while he’s in the company of Klan members. One mistake can be deadly for the undercover man. And to top it off, the white (actually Jewish, but he can’t reveal that either) “Ron” gets to meet the “pope” of the national Ku Klux Klan, David Duke (Topher Grace). Yes, if everything goes right much information will be in government’s hands about the infamous KKK.

But Ron is asked to do another assignment: go undercover in a rally put on by the Colorado Black Student Union with former Black Panther, Kwame Ture, formerly known as Stokley Carmichael, (Corey Hawkins). The Chief thinks Ture is a rabble-rouser and may be a danger to the state. While undercover Ron meets the president of the student union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), when a relationship develops. The two have a warm, intelligent relationship that’s to grow like Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln in the lovely African American romance-drama “Nothing But a Man” (1964). Whatever happens between Ron and Patrice may find a natural course once certain secrets are ironed out.

What racial tensions centered around the early 1970s, the black power movements, the dignity wearing the Afros, the necessary militancy an affront to many whites and some conservative middle-class blacks, the aftermath of the murders of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and more to epitomize the 400 years of struggle (slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, red lining, police brutality, whatever ,that’s Lee’s point. These beautiful African Americans, dark-brown, medium-brown, light-brown, and every shade in between, trying to forge ahead for full justice and equality.

What Lee does here so vividly is show parallels between the infiltration of the KKK in circa 1970 and the alt-white debacle in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. He also shows some clips from D.W. Griffith’s Movie, the 1915 “Birth of a Nation”, where blacks are depicted in the worst manners. To be more contemporary in another way, he shows our current President Donald Trump demonstrating racist rhetoric adding to an already divided country over race.

“BlacKkKlansman” is an important piece of work and it’s none other than Spike Lee at the helm. Cast: John David Washington (Ron Stallworth), Adam Driver (Flip Zimmerman), Corey Hawkins (Kwane Ture), Laura Harrier (Patrice Dumas), John Burke (Chief Bridges), Topher Grace (David Duke). Director: Spike Lee. Running time: 135 minutes. (R)

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