Spike Lee has an engaging dramatic-license-taken, based-on-a-true-story with "BlacKkKlansman," of an undercover operation led by a black police officer to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, and it's ripe for making into a subtle critique of the current Trump presidency and continued violence, including by law enforcement, against African Americans, but subtle Lee is not and, instead, the blunt polemic is hammered into our heads. There's also a nice concurrent theme concerning the mainstream Hollywood white-supremacist epics "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) and "Gone with the Wind" (1939) contrasted with early-1970s blaxploitation films, of which Lee's film aptly borrows much of its style.
I thought "The Post" (2017) was too obvious in its paralleling a Nixon-era narrative with current events, but "BlacKkKlansman" could've benefited from even that level of understatedness. On one hand, the opening sequence is rather good at connecting all of the threads, with clips from the aforementioned 1915 and 1939 films being projected during the making of Klan propaganda-- the hate speech being delivered by none other than "Saturday Night Live" Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin. But, then, the film continues to make certain no member of the audience is left behind in understanding the message. There's the joke that America would never elect a David Duke type, although that was the only part of this rather satirically-approached picture that received a laugh from the audience I was in. The historical events are pushed back to coincide with Nixon's 1972 Southern strategy. And, finally, there's the epilogue of real footage from the 2017 Charlottesville protests and car attack and President Trump's much-criticized remarks thereafter. It's too much.
The cinematic allusions aren't exactly subtle, either, but I think they're sometimes executed better. Although there's a conversation between the lovers debating their favorite blaxploitation flicks, this film also incorporates the genre into its style, including by actually being a film photographed on film. I especially like the brief disco scene, which is energetically compiled. I haven't seen much blaxploitation fare, but of the ones I've seen, they tend to include musical nightclub interruptions to the plot. They also contain scenes where the characters debate opposing sides of the approaches of African Americans to white-dominated America, whether to fight injustices from outside or to reform from within, especially regarding law enforcement. This one does the same thing, including one man becoming a city's first black cop, who, then, poses as white to expose the Klan and another cop, who's Jewish, "passing" in predominantly-Christian white America and acting anti-Semitic to infiltrate the same Organization. Similarly, they earlier go undercover at a Black Panther speech by Stokely Carmichael.
Unfortunately, Lee's anti-racist polemic can't entirely escape the kind of filmic rhetoric that has underpinned so much of Hollywood cinema all the way back to the racist pomposity of "The Birth of a Nation." Just as in the film, the black student union's "black power" slogan forms a sound bridge with the "white power" chant of the Klan. While surely not hoping for the sort of hooting and hollering of the Klansmen at the racist caricatures of white actors in blackface of the screening of the 1915 film within this film, it may be expected that supporters cheer the message of "BlacKkKlansman" just as audiences once roared for the KKK racing to the rescue in the climax of its predecessor. More interesting and likely more successfully than whether this affects the political and racial issues in America is whether Lee has changed the course from within of the white-dominated movie business. It's the Organization he's been infiltrating for some time now.
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