BlacKkKlansman (AU – MA15+/UK - 15/US - R) 

In a Word: Surreal

BlacKkKlansman

 Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman (the other Ron Stallworth) and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth himself in BlacKkKLansman.

 

"In parts bizarre, in parts deeply disturbing, BlacKkKlansman tells a story which would be compelling enough in its own right. Spliced into events such as have been unfolding in the US over the past couple of years, however, it becomes even more so."

There’s nothing strait-laced about this film – director Spike Lee makes sure the audience is well aware of the absurdity of the story from the opening. And yet BlacKkKlansman manages to nonetheless pack a wallop as it confronts very directly issues of racism and prejudice - both in the past and in the now.

The film tells the almost unbelieveable story of Ron Stallworth (played here by John David Washington) who in the early 1970s became the first African-American man to join the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Despite being initially exiled to the filing room, his talent for undercover work soon comes to the fore as he's tasked with eavesdropping on a student meeting featuring 'black power' activist Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins). Made a detective, Stallworth subsequently spots a recruitment ad for the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, and contacts them via phone, masquerading as a prospective new member (albeit using his real name).

He’s invited to a meeting – which, of course, he realizes he’s unlikely to be accepted into once the KKK members see him – and so a fellow officer, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) agrees to take on the role in person (and place his own life in danger – he happens to be a Jew and Jews, as he is repeatedly told, are most definitely not welcome in the organisation).

Together, they are so successful in infiltrating the local chapter – despite the suspicions of some – that Stallworth, continuing his phone conversations with members of the group, even manages to befriend the “Grand Wizard” himself, David Duke (Topher Grace), national head of the KKK. Things come to a head when Duke is invited to the town to preside over Stallworth’s induction.

Littered with references to the US context today – phrases like 'Make America Great Again' and 'America First' pop up throughout the film, these also come to a sobering head at the film’s close when we’re taken to real footage of the clashes which took place between 'Unite the Right' supporters and anti-racism protestors in Charlottesville a year ago, including when a car was driven into the crowd of counter-protestors and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed.

This, after all, is at times a hard film to watch. The absurdity is delicately balanced with the anything but. And sure, there is strong language, racist and otherwise, throughout but alongside the events of Charlottesville, among the toughest parts to watch is the detailed recounting of a lynching which had occurred years earlier.

Washington is a stand-out the real Stallworth but so to is Driver as Zimmerman - someone who only as the job goes on starts to explore his Jewish heritage which wasn't something he says he'd ever really thought about before. Grace meanwhile does a good job of portraying the seemingly mild-mannered yet toxic Duke and also of note is Laura Harrier who plays Patrice Dumas, whom Stallworth encounters as president of the local Black Student Union and who becomes his love interest.

In parts bizarre, in parts deeply disturbing, BlacKkKlansman tells a story which would be compelling enough in its own right. Spliced into events such as have been unfolding in the US over the past couple of years, however, it becomes even more so.