BlacKkKlansman, film review

This May 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

BLACKkKLANSMAN – Official Trailer [HD] – In Theaters August 10

A Spike Lee joint. From producer Jordan Peele. Based on some fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t.

From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. Produced by the team behind the Academy-Award® winning Get Out.

On 10 September 2018, I went to see that film. Though it is mainly about the 1970s, it makes points about the time after the 1970s, now. And about the time before the 1970s: the United States civil war, 1861-1865.

The opening scene of BlacKkKlansman shows a clip from the well-known 1939 film Gone With the Wind: Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) walks among the dead and dying soldiers of the southern pro-slavery army in Atlanta in 1864. Their Confederate flag flutters in the breeze. Dixie, the unofficial national anthem of the breakaway south, plays. The upbeat tune contrasts with the bloodshed, visible in the images, which the rebellion to keep slavery has brought.

Gone With the Wind whitewashes the pro-slavery secessionists. It is based on the 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name which praised the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). One of Spike Lee’s main themes in his film is criticizing the racist tradition in Hollywood movies.

The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 by officers of the defeated Confederate army. Driven underground, it resurfaced after 1915. Then, the blockbuster Hollywood film The Birth of a Nation glorified the Klan. It depicted them as gallant white knights, defending the honour of white southern womanhood against rapist and otherwise criminal freed African American slaves during the post-1865 Reconstruction period. The KKK still today uses this racist film on the Civil War and its aftermath as a recruiting tool; as BlacKkKlansman also shows.

Spike Lee recalled how he was educated as a filmmaker:

They taught us all of the cinematic innovations DW Griffith had come up with, but they left out everything that had to do with the social impact of the film [The Birth of a Nation]”, Lee recently told Ebony magazine. “That this film re-energized the Klan. The Klan was dormant, it was dead, and it brought about a rebirth. Therefore, because of the rebirth of the Klan, it led to black people being lynched, strung up, castrated and murdered, but that was never discussed.

Finally, the Civil War comes back in the last scene in Spike Lee’s movie. It shows the 2017 violent extreme right demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. White supremacists, including the Ku Klux Klan, then wanted to obstruct the local council’s decision to remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee, the commander of the 1861-1865 pro-slavery secessionists. The neonazis injured many anti-fascists, killing Heather Heyer. BlacKkKlansman shows President Trump whitewashing the Charlotteville nazi violence. And ex-Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke, a major role in Lee’s movie, praising Trump because of that. The last image of the film shows the flowers commemorating Ms Heyer.

This ending differs from the original final scene, now the penultimate scene. Police officer Stallworth has successfully stopped a Klan bomb assassination of black civil rights activists. However, then there is a knock on his door. As he looks outside his house, he sees KKK members having a cross burning ceremony. A sign he has solved one problem, but that basically there is still the same problem. As the nazi murder in Charlottesville marked even more clearly.

The inspiration for Spike Lee was the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer ever in Colorado Springs. For the film, Lee changed several things. Like adding a small k in the title between the capital K’s of BlacK and Klansman. And adding a romantic interest by Stallworth in the president of the local black students organisation, Ms Patrice Dumas. And making Stallworth’s colleague in infiltrating the Klan Jewish.

As Stallworth joins the Colorado Springs police, the commissioner warns him that his fellow policemen will call him nigger and worse, and that he should not get angry about that.

He soon meets a colleague calling African Americans ‘toads’, a killer of an innocent black boy and a sexual abuser of African American women. Other policemen tell Stallworth they don’t like that behaviour; however, ‘in the police, we are one family’, not reporting on each other.

Stallworth would like to do undercover police work, instead of boring archive work. The commissioner offers him an undercover job: spying on local black students. They have invited Kwame Toure (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael) for a lecture. The commissioner says that Toure used to be in the Black Panther party. And he agrees with (racist) FBI boss Hoover that the Black Panthers are supposedly the most dangerous group in the USA.

In his lecture, Kwame Toure tells that as a young boy, he was a fan of Tarzan films. As on screen white man Tarzan beat up black Africans, young Toure used to scream: ‘Kill these savages!’ However, later Toure became aware that he was really shouting ‘Kill me!’ That black is beautiful, not ‘savage’. So, another criticism by Spike Lee of racism in Hollywood films.

The Toure speech opposes the Vietnam war. Vietnamese have never done anything against African Americans. The lecturer shouts: Hell no, we won’t go! And the whole hall explodes in approval.

In the film, Stallworth concludes that Kwame Toure is at least partially right. He concludes he should spy on the Ku Klux Klan rather than on African American radicals.

Later in the film, veteran actor and singer Harry Belafonte has a role. He plays an old man lecturing to the black student organisation. He recalls how, as a teenager in Texas in 1916, he witnessed the cruel lynching of a fellow innocent black teenager, falsely accused of raping a white woman. That horrible lynching was just after the film The Birth of a Nation had come out.

David Walsh wrote a critical, far too critical review of BlacKkKlansman; that important, impressive, though not infallible film. Though he did praise the final Charlottesville scene. Walsh has two valid points:

[Actor Topher] Grace is all too foolish and insubstantial as [David] Duke, a sinister and persistent figure, with deep connections to the major political parties, the international far-right and elements within the US military and the state.

Spike Lee’s film does not have enough attention for … one of the more significant of Stallworth’s discoveries—that several active members of the US military, including NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] personnel, individuals with their fingers on the nuclear button, are members of the Klan chapter. We see Stallworth having a brief meeting with an FBI agent about the matter, and that’s that.

NORAD headquarters is near Colorado Springs, as is the US Air Force Academy. The city was becoming a center for the religious and fascistic right in the period BlacKkKlansman treats. The filmmakers do not trouble themselves about that.

African American leftist filmmaker Boots Riley writes that Spike Lee inspired him to go to film school. This film disappointed him so much that he wrote sharp criticism of it. According to Riley, the movie role Stallworth is much more heroic than the real life police officer Stallworth was; and the often so racist police is depicted too much like a force against racism.

Another critical review, especially on the way the film depicts Kwame Toure’s views, is here.

ALABAMA PUBLISHER STRIPPED OF HONOR OVER KKK EDITORIAL An Alabama newspaper publisher who wrote an editorial calling “for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again” was stripped of an honor given by his college. The University of Southern Mississippi said it removed Goodloe Sutton’s name from its journalism hall of fame due to the “dangerous nature” of the Democrat-Reporter publisher’s comments. [HuffPost]

ALABAMA PUBLISHER DOUBLES DOWN ON KKK Alabama newspaper publisher Goodloe Sutton does not regret the editorial he wrote calling for the “Ku Klux Klan to night ride again.” He doubled down in a local interview, saying, “The KKK are the nicest.” [HuffPost]

10 thoughts on “BlacKkKlansman, film review

  1. Thank you fr such an honest review of the movie. I do not know if you are aware but Spike was $400,000 or more to do ai campaign for the New York Police department that was put in motion a few weeks before the release the above mentioned movie. Spike lee is not as radical a film-maker as he wants us to believe for he is truly about the money from whom ever will pay him


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  7. UNITED STATES: The boss of an Alabama newspaper has faced calls to quit after urging a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

    Print-only newspaper the Linden Democrat-Reporter ran an editorial headed “Klan needs to ride again” in its February 14 edition.

    The piece complained about plans to raise taxes in the state, warning: “This socialist-communist ideology sounds good to the ignorant, the uneducated and the simple-minded people.”

    “Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night-ride again,” the article said, referring to the white-supremacist group’s terrorisation of African-American communities from the end of the civil war onwards.

    Publisher-editor Goodloe Sutton told the Montgomery Advertiser that he wrote the piece and stands by it. He suggested lynchings as a way to clean up Washington and questioned whether the KKK is violent, saying it “didn’t kill but a few people.”


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