Spike Lee has finally received a Best Director Oscar nomination for his film “BlacKkKlansman.” It is based on the book by Ron Stallworth. In the 1970s, Stallworth was the only black police officer in the Colorado Springs police department. He was always ready to face the backlash and criticism for his afro and skin color. He also orchestrated an infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan while developing a trust with their Grand Wizard and eventual Presidential candidate David Duke.
John David Washington (son of Denzel) portrays Stallworth with high intelligence, instinct and even tolerance to stay focused on the end goal of incriminating Klan members out to do more than just march. Stallworth partners up with Flipp Zimmerman, a Jewish cop who will make his presence as Stallworth among the ranks of the Klan. Call it a Cyrano set up. Stallworth does the talking over the phone. Flipp stands in their presence.
I’ve usually been hot and cold on Spike Lee. Forgive me but when a “Spike Lee Joint” debuts in theatres, my subconscious immediately expects a very biased and unfair viewpoint of racial tensions in America. I don’t care for Lee’s outspoken statements in the media at times and I shake my head at some of his misguided actions. That’s another conversation that I welcome to have with anyone at another time. However, Lee takes a very aware and balanced approach here. The film opens with Alec Baldwin as an evil messenger of hate attempting to record a sermon for his disciples. Lee films Baldwin very disturbingly among different color hues and jittery close ups and wide angles. It’s nauseating and it should be.
Then Stallworth’s story begins and he is assigned to go undercover at a former Black Panther member’s (played by Corey Hawkins, who I loved in the revival of “24”) speaking event on a college campus. The police expect this will be an orchestration of violence among the black community but Stallworth sees it is anything but that. Lee commits a beautiful filmmaking effort as he shows the faces of black people listening to the speech in spotlights as Hawkins continues on. These are college students simply looking for a way to never succumb to anyone who considers them inferior. The speaker does hold the white man accountable, yes, and I don’t care for that as I’m a white man with no instinct of superiority. Therefore, don’t lump me in with a small sect of misguided people, please. Still, the scene is effective and relatable. America has its ugly histories and America is not settling for insensible and uncaring treatment of its people either.
From here, the film takes on a more linear story as Stallworth and Zimmerman build their case.
Lee offers good debates among his cast of characters. Stallworth becomes attracted to an activist named Patrice, played very well by Laura Harrier. Here’s hoping to a long, successful career for her. Patrice believes the police are the enemy and even questions if Stallworth will remain a police officer following this case. Stallworth takes pride in being a cop. Black Life vs Law Enforcement.
Stallworth and Zimmerman bear witness to the mentality of the Klan. Over and over the Klan members suspect Zimmerman of his Judaism. He denies it and goes to great lengths to disprove his heritage and yet the Klan continues to question him, despite some high level members truly believing his guise of white supreme devotion. White Supremicists vs. Judaica & Black Life.
Lee has offered a powerful film that left my wife and I up until two in the morning discussing its dynamics; discussing how many things have changed for the good since the 50s; discussing how many have gotten better, have gotten worse and how some things have sadly resurfaced in recent years.
“BlacKkKlansman” reminds me that Lee is truly an accomplished filmmaker. Beyond his messages and viewpoints, Lee knows how to edit a scene and offer inventive camera angles and direction. He’s a prize student of film, now a teacher. This latest effort is a reminder of how Lee’s production of “Malcolm X” in 1991 was robbed of recognition at the Academy Awards, a true injustice.
“BlacKkKlansman” is Spike Lee’s best film since “Malcolm X” and one of the best films of 2018.