Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Chayse Irvin
WRITERS: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
MUSIC: Terence Blanchard
Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was one of the first African American policemen at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and in 1979, he infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. One day, Stallworth sees an ad to contact the “Organization”, which is the word the KKK used to describe their “secret empire”. In order to actually meet members of the Klan, Stallworth enlists the aid of fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
The infiltration succeeds and both Stallworth and Zimmerman begins making deeper connections to the organization, even getting the chance to have conversations with the Klan’s Grand Wizard, David Duke (Topher Grace). The movie contains a widespread spectrum of emotions. On one hand, you’ll laugh at the absurdity of the characters you’ll meet in the KKK. Then, in an instant, you’ll be furious that these people actually believe the horrible racist things that they say and that they actually want to bring harm to anyone different from them, especially African Americans.
By the end, though, you’ll also feel a profound sense of sadness. This is because director Spike Lee successfully makes connections between the Klan of 1979 and more recent events such as the violence in Charlottesville and the current presidential administration. He also uses dialogue of the times (“America First!”) to show that the Klan of yesterday has definitely informed the white nationalists of today. You will leave thinking about what you just saw and the message that it hits you with.
Thankfully, Lee also has a fantastic cast to bring this message to the screen. Washington is a revelation as Stallworth and I really hope that this is just the start to a major film career. He plays a character that is shunned by both his racist co-workers and his own race that thinks he’s nothing but a pig. Washington and his character show the audience that there has to be people on both sides for progress to take place. Extremism on both sides of any major movement is never a good thing.
The other actor of note is Driver as Flip. This is a character that really doesn’t care about his heritage as a Jewish person until he gets deep undercover with the clan. Through this investigation, it makes him examine who he is as he has to work with people that he absolutely hates and, as a result, the investigation changes him as well.
The movie is based on the true story of the real Ron Stallworth. While the movie tries to stay true to the source material, the best source for the true investigation is Stallworth’s memoir, “Black Klansman: Race, Hate and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”. Here, you’ll have a good time while also being reminded of our country’s darker elements.
I was absolutely blown away by this movie and what it had to say. I was left thinking about its message and I was thoroughly entertained. Right now, this is the best film of the year that I’ve seen so far.