This is the true story of real American hero Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), Colorado Springs’ first African-American police officer. It’s the 1970s and Stallworth plans to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a more senior detective, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
Stallworth works the phone to ingratiate himself to Grand Wizard David Duke, and Zimmerman visits the local KKK chapter to repeatedly convince them that he’s not Jewish. Their combined persona rapidly climbs the ranks of the white supremacist organisation, providing a humorous but heavy insight into the supposedly incongruent stupidity and political nous of racists.
Mid-way through the film is where director Spike Lee makes a more overt parallel between the film’s events and present race relations. “America would never elect somebody like David Duke president,” says our protagonist, immediately invoking an image of current U.S. President and known KKK affiliate Donald Trump. His white sergeant replies simply: “you need to wake up.”
The film opens with a scene from Gone With The Wind, one of America’s most beloved cinema classics. It depicts a battlefield of wounded Confederate soldiers, and a woman weeping for them. Later the film is cut with scenes from The Birth of a Nation, a film infamous for sparking the creation of the KKK. As the KKK watches it, the Colorado Black Student Union listens to a witness of the Waco Horror, a brutal 1916 lynching incited by The Birth of a Nation fans. There are photos – Jesse Washington’s horrific, inhuman murder was recorded for use on Texas postcards.
Lee uses these pieces of media to ground the film in reality, but it also serves to show how media has always normalised and profited off white supremacism. The film ends with a recording of President Trump calling literal Nazis “fine people.”
It sounds heavy, but the film deftly balances purpose and entertainment. Recipient of the Grand Prix prize at the Cannes Film Festival and produced by Get Out’s Jordan Peele, BlacKkKlansman could get through to even the most un-woke white dude. It’s funny, smart, and relevant. It’s one of Spike Lee’s best films, and will certainly top this year’s awards lists.
Bonus mention: Alec Baldwin’s spittle-flecked rage against miscegenation and the great Zionist Banking Conspiracy.