BlacKkKlansman is the new Spike Lee-directed, Jordan Peele-produced film telling the abnormal true story of the first black police officer on a Colorado police force that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. The film stars John David Washington as the black police officer Ron Stallworth, and Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman, fellow officer and Jewish man who helps Stallworth on the mission. Using the early 1970s political climate as an analogy for relevant political events, Lee crafts a poignant commentary about the futility of extremism.
From the very start of the film, Ron is introduced to people who are either extremely outspoken racists or somewhat altruistic people. This changes however once he is given a chance to prove himself to the force and is allowed to investigate the activities of the KKK. This is where he is introduced to Flip, who is to be his stand-in when dealing with the Klan in person. Despite members of the KKK being very outspoken about hating Jewish people, and Flip being of the Jewish faith, the Klan members buy into the act, allowing Ron to be officially ‘knighted’ by David Duke.
This idea of extremism helps contribute to the overt social commentary that Lee injects throughout the course of the film. With both the Black Panther Party and KKK in the film seen advocating for a kind of race war that is deemed inevitable by both sides, to the point where the members of the KKK plot to assassinate one of the BPP members, meanwhile the BPP talk about an impending race war against the police force that they must start—as evidenced by a speech given at the beginning of the film by Kwame Ture, played by Corey Hawkins, to an audience of university students.
The BPP member in question that is targeted happens to be Ron’s love-interest, Odetta, played by Damaris Lewis, who is the main representation of the radical viewpoints of the BPP in the film. Despite Ron saving her life towards the end of the film and working undercover to fix the system from the inside, she remains opposed to any other solutions to racial inequality besides militancy and continues to demonize him as a ‘pig’ up until the very climax of the film, despite his actions that say otherwise. The same goes for Ron’s over-the-phone conversations with Grand Wizard, David Duke, played by Topher Grace, who shows the same amount of confusion towards any other suggestions against militancy, and even laughs at the idea of Ron being black, stating he ‘knows how they speak’ despite the opposite being true. All of these scenes are surrounded by the film’s racially charged sense of humor—poking fun mostly at the Ku Klux Klan and their members being completely inept as well as some subtle camera angles that mimic Blaxploitation films of the era.
With that being said, the cinematography by Chayse Irvin is extremely spot-on when it comes to nailing the look that is trying to be emulated. With a very naturalistic look throughout, and even a zoom shot at a couple points and the title sequence, the film oozes early 1970s Blaxploitation cinema in almost every way except for content—thematically parallel, but having a far different diegesis. One sequence which comes to mind is the touching romantic moment that Ron and Odetta share while walking through a park, the sun setting in the background, a stream babbling by on their left, and the camera taking on a somewhat voyeuristic point-of-view as they both discuss Blaxploitation films and what they think about the genre as a whole—this obviously leading to a conflict between the two.
Again, this idea of conflicting extremist ideologies that Lee plays with in multiple sequences is extremely apparent during a scene in which a Black Panther meeting about a black man who was attacked in a racially motivated killing, is intercut with a scene of Klansmen watching and celebrating the 1915 film Birth of a Nation. Despite obvious differences in the righteousness of their goals, both groups relate to specific moments in cultural and political history to fuel their ideologies: with the KKK it is a fictional, racist silent film sympathetic to their cause; for the Black Panthers it is an all-too real act of racist violence that occurred less than 40 years prior.
With all of these pieces, Spike Lee crafts a witty political satire that basks in its retro vibes while also not hiding its own connections with the present. This evolves into a message about extremism that has rarely been seen lately as both political left and right are critiqued, albeit to different extents, in the film in order to prove a larger point about the government and citizens of America. It is a film with good intentions that is clearly trying to cause a change in the political landscape if people are willing only to listen in to what the film has to say.