By The Nerdling
It is Oscar time again! The Collective team is busy watching all of the eight films nominated for Best Picture and reviewing them for you here. I will do my best to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t seen BlacKkKlansman just yet.
Ron Stallworth’s memoir, Black Klansman, detailing his time as a Detective in the Colorado Spring’s Police Department, is not a comedy. While the idea of an African-American man infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan lends itself to hilarity, Stallworth’s memoir is quite serious. He reflects upon the political climate of the late 1970s and his encounters with the KKK, the local Black Student Union, the International Committee Against Racism, the Progressive Labor Party, and several other groups focusing on race. It is a nuanced look at politics and race at the time. And it is disturbing how much his tale mirrors our political climate now.
The film, BlacKkKlansman, gives the former police detective and his story the Hollywood treatment while scaling down Stallworth’s reflections to black and white. Director Spike Lee along with writers Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott add, lots of laughs, some action, an exciting climax involving a bomb, and an unnecessary love story.
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a uniformed officer stuck in the filing department, receives his chance to become a detective when Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) comes to town to speak at a BSU event. Stallworth is the only black man in the department, thus the only cop who can attend the speech without being suspect. At the rally, Ron meets the BSU leader Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) and the two begin a relationship.
While I don’t love the romance aspect of Ron and Patrice, their debates about race help to take the film to a better level in terms as what it means to be a black man in society. Patrice was created solely for the film and Harrier takes her beyond the stereotypical “strong black woman” archetype.
Feeling guilty for spying on his own race, Ron takes a chance in opening an investigation into the KKK after seeing a recruitment ad in the newspaper. He calls the number for the local KKK chapter and establishes contact. One glaring problem. Ron can’t meet the local president in person. He recruits the Jewish Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to be him at the meetings.
Driver, nominated for his role, has spectacular chemistry with Washington. It makes for an entertaining bromance I wished BlacKkKlansman had explored further. Driver plays Flip so straight, it seems as if attending the KKK meetings is nothing to him, just a job. But in a moment of tension before the big rally, Flip has a marvelous monologue about how he wasn’t raised Jewish. It offers a peek into his angst being around such hate inflicts on his psyche. Flip is the person bearing the brunt of the danger in the mission. The film makes a point to remind the audience of this every time he is in the presence of a Klan member.
Much of the film’s humor stems from the idea of a Black and a Jewish man infiltrating the KKK. Both Ron and Flip’s straight-faced rants about the blacks and Jews while the KKK members and their Grand Dragon, David Duke (Topher Grace), get excited is disturbingly funny. Many of the racist tirades from various members of the KKK are also treated as comedy.
In a perverse way, these white men being afraid of anyone who isn’t their likeness is amusing. How small minded of a person do you have to be to fear the other? Lee poses this question constantly in this film. And these Klan members are shown to be the lowest of the low. Drunk, wife beating, blue-collar, gun-toting morons who understand nothing beyond the scope of their own nose. These bumbling oafs are easy to laugh at even as they planning terroristic acts.
So, when the film takes a much darker turn, it feels like whiplash. The juxtaposition of a Klan screening of The Birth of a Nation and an older black man telling the story of a horrifying lynching inspired by Klan approved film feels out of place, tonally, with the rest of the film. The humor in the slack-jawed-yokels being terrified of the other is gone. It becomes a sobering splash of cold water to the face. The film brings the audience back to the now where there is a resurgence of White Supremacy happening, spurred on by the administration squatting in the Oval Office.
Lee uses a heavy hand to link the events of then to the happenings of now. References to young, unarmed black men being killed by cops. Remarks about making America great again. The film caps off with footage of the White Supremacist rally at the University of Virginia and Charlottesville, South Carolina in 2017 where Heather Heyer was killed during a counter-protest. It mirrors the climax of the film. The real David Duke makes an appearance in the footage. This man still holds the sway of those looking to place the blame of their problems on whatever is different. I wanted to throw up by the time the upside-down flag appears (a symbol of a nation in distress).
BlacKkKlansman, while a bit all over the place tonally, is a well-done film. Most of us do not need reminding of how bad our own political climate is getting, but the humor at the expense of racist idiots breaks up the tension nicely.
BlacKkKlansman has been nominated for six Oscars and is available to rent on Vudu, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube. The 91st Academy Awards will air on February 24, 2019.
The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.