Spike Lee (director)
2h 15m (length)
23 August 2018 (released)
27 August 2018
Spike Lee's latest movie BlacKkKlansman takes inspiration from Blaxploitation-era movies of the '70s.
In this period dramedy based on the book by former police detective Ron Stallworth, John David Washington, complete with a halo of an afro, stars as the first black policeman in Colorado Springs.
As well as dealing with the frosty reception he receives from his white colleagues, in 1979, Stallworth begins an undercover operation into the white supremacist organisation, the Ku Klux Klan, in which he impersonates a racist white man over the phone.
Director Spike highlights the code-switching (of speech and behaviour) adopted by black people in a majority-white environment, which means Stallworth is able to fool Klan members, including Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace), into thinking he is white when talking to them on the phone.
But because he rashly uses his real name during the conversation he enlists fellow officer, Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to take on the persona when he has to meet with the Klan.
Stallworth's first proper assignment at the police station is to go undercover at a speaking engagement for activist Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), who speaks passionately about systematic politic oppression, and the Tarzan movies that made him internalise racism. Wearing a wire to snoop on the students, he meets beautiful afroed activist, Patrice (Laura Harrier), and is moved to do something to help the movement.
Throughout the film, Spike presents comparisons to the racism of the '70s and contemporary society, interspersing footage of films such as D.W. Griffith's racist movie The Birth of a Nation with present-day events.
The bumbling Klan members are shown harmlessly meeting at house parties, and on "good old boy" hunting trips, which is contrasted with scenes of an elderly man named Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) recalling the real-life horrors carried out by the Klan in the wake of Griffith's movie, as Stallworth battles to thwart a planned white supremacist attack on the activists.
Spike again fuses drama with reality - a technique he drew on for biopic Malcolm X that opened with real clips of Rodney King's beating.
While BlacKkKlansman opens with a scene from the movie Gone with the Wind and closes with footage from the 2017 Charlottesville protest that serves as a reminder that his film, despite the vibrancy of its '70s styling, is really not too far removed from reality.
Despite its weighty subject matter, BlacKkKlansman is peppered with humour, and carried by a perfectly strong ensemble of actors, with standout performances by Washington, Driver and Harrier.
However, behind the laughs, by using present-day footage Spike makes sure the message is clear, that to this day, white supremacist groups still exist, thrive and find new and prominent followers and leaders.
BlacKkKlansman shows Spike remains one of cinema's best auteurs and an expert at combining art with social commentary.