The movie opens with one of the greatest film scenes of all time. I was thinking about what possible way this scene from Gone With The Wind have to do with the plot of the movie, and then I see it. Yeah, I forgot about the last thing you see in one of the most jaw-dropping scenes of all time, where Scarlett is walking across the battlefield of hundreds of wounded soldiers, it’s the Confederate flag. If that’s how they start off, well just wait and see what note the movie ends on, and oh boy it’s a doozy.
BlacKKKlansman first builds on the political climate of the seventies, and instead of seeing this portion of history from the impoverished black man, we see it from a black man who has just started as a policeman. The first in his district, so he is acquainted with the slandering in the form of name calling every day. After reaching a breaking point at other cops calling black men “Toads,” our protagonist Ron Stallworth jumps at the chance of working as an undercover cop. First, he successfully gathers intel on a Black Panther meet up before being promoted. Here in Ron prank calls the KKK in an effort to humor himself, but instead sees an opportunity to scope out the cult. The problem at hand is that Ron is a black man trying to infiltrate the KKK, so he looks to his co-worker Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver to fulfill the meetings in person as him. The problem for Flip as well is the fact that he is Jewish, which is an excellent way of having Ron and Flip understand each other as Ron makes this case his crusade. Did I mention this was based on a true story?
The people in the KKK themselves are a varied bunch, from the extreme to the remarkably normal, however, incorrigible in their political view. As Ron and Flip become more involved in the clan, it becomes more dangerous for them. There is a scene involving a celebratory viewing of the first feature-length film by D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation. It made me feel sick watching the clan in uniform reeling in joy from the picture. The Birth of a Nation (1915), is a remarkable film for its outreach, and storytelling. It is also one of the most racist films ever made, which is hard to praise because it was so instrumental to the history of cinema. I’ve seen parts of it before, yet never made a connection to how damaging that film was to a nation overcoming slavery. It’s moments like this that I suspect will leave casual filmgoing audiences confused. For me, I’m enlightened.
I have not really spoiled anything that hasn’t been seen in the trailers. However, I need to talk about the ending. It’s not a spoiler to the movie because this film is separated by the political messaging that bookends the film, though combined it resonates and leaves you with your political notions to discuss. The ending surprised me by how jarring it felt being thrown into the footage. It’s all shocking, and there is no peace to be found. We are shown footage of the Charlottesville riots from last year. We see the graphic nature of a car driving through a street full of people before taking off and are left hearing the screams of the victims. The final image Spike Lee leaves us with is the United States of America flag upside down and in black and white. The significance of this hits hard as we see a nation of white men represented by all fifty white stars. It’s an image that manipulates us to register the fact that the United States, along with the Charlottesville footage is far from equality.
While this movie was quite exceptional, Spike Lee wanted to hit audiences over the head by mirroring the politics of today with yesterday. I think what he did in Do The Right Thing was much more powerful in its subtlety. BlacKKKlansman is a statement. Two people walked out of the screening that I was at, and I suspect many more will throughout its release.