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Film Review: BlacKkKlansman

5 September 18 words: Alicia Lansom

Spike Lee's latest film tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, a black police detective who successfully infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s.  

Director: Spike Lee

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace

Running time: 135 mins

Spike Lee’s latest film follows the story of a black police officer who successfully infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s. Taken from the real-life memoir of undercover police detective Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) the film depicts his life as the first African-American officer hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department.

As the film begins, Ron is stuck pushing papers, but after being involved in a small covert operation, is promoted out of the records room. In his new office, Stallworth comes across a classified ad in the paper for the local chapter of the KKK and decides to contact ‘the organisation’ to express his hatred of all non-white people and his interest in becoming a member. But when the offer to meet in person is brought up, he has to persuade fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go undercover and play his white stand in.

The operation is soon given the go ahead, with Zimmermann doing all in-person meetings with the Klan. But as a Jewish cop going undercover in the KKK, he has a hard time convincing the Klan members he is as proudly racist as they are. In particular, Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Pääkkönen) discredits his claims of white heritage and at one stage challenges him to a lie detector test, that Zimmerman narrowly gets himself out of.

The Klan is presented to the audience as both ridiculous and incompetent, but they are also frighteningly evil. In particular, Felix’s unassuming wife Connie (Ashlie Atkinson) shows the extent of the Klan’s dual identities when, in the company of those who share her prejudices, gets practically giddy at the idea of murdering black people.

Throughout, the film manages to strike a balance between adventure action movie and gravely serious political commentary

But while Zimmermann navigates the local ‘organisation’, Stallworth is continuing communication with the Klan by phone, even going as far as to call up the Klan’s Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). The smarmy leader feeds on Stallworth’s over the top flattery and racist remarks and in one hilariously absurd conversation, even boasts about how he can tell somebodies race by the sound of their voice, much to Stallworth's amusement.

Yet despite it’s comedic moments, the film never falls out of touch with the seriousness of the subject matter. Set during the height of the Black Power movement, the story also follows a group of students protesting against racial injustice in Colorado Springs. It is during one of these protests that Stallworth develops a relationship with an activist college student named Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier). Patrice’s fight against racial hatred causes Stallworth to be faced with a moral dilemma, caught in-between believing in his own work as a detective and realising the suffering that the authorities cause to his fellow black Americans.

The ensemble cast in this film works perfectly, with John David Washington at the helm leading with so much ease and skill it would be easy to forget that this is his first major role. Equally, Adam Driver is totally brilliant as Zimmermann, showing the characters battle with his own identity as a Jewish American and his compliance with institutionalised racism.

Throughout, the film manages to strike a balance between adventure action movie and gravely serious political commentary. But the message is clear when in the final scenes of the film, Spike Lee cuts to chilling footage of contemporary white supremacists in the US, bringing the story to a sobering end.

BlacKkKlansman is a timely reminder of the racial tensions and police brutality that have existed and continue to exist in todays society, making the film a thought-provoking and meaningful watch.

Did you know? David Duke did not discover that Ron Stallworth was a black man until 2006, when a Miami Herald reporter contacted him for his side of the story.

Blackkklansman is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 13 September

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