BlacKkKlansman – a powerful film of race relations in America – NOT a comedy

BlacKkKansman is a powerful and moving film about race relations. Unfortunately it is being marketed as a light comedy. BlacKkKlansman is the true story of Ron Stallworth, an African-American Colorado police officer who went undercover to expose the Ku Klux Klan and its violence in the late 1960s & early 1970s.  BlacKkKlansman is a clever film, since it tricks audiences by starting out as a silly comedy, and then slowly becomes more and more serious as the movie progresses.

John David Washington & Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman

John David Washington & Laura Harrier in BlacKkKlansman

At first, the whole idea seems ridiculous. How could a black man go under cover in the Ku Klux Klan? It starts with detective Ron Stallworth (perfectly played by John David Washington) answering an ad which is looking for new members in the Ku Klux Klan. Ron thought he would just get some literature in the mail which he could then file in the police records. Instead, he ends up speaking to the head of the local Klan, and getting invited to a meeting.

Adam Driver & John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

Adam Driver & John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman

Of course, Ron cannot possibly attend the meeting himself, so he sends an undercover White police officer instead. The undercover cop is Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who as the name suggests is Jewish. Flip has to hide this fact, since the Ku Klux Klan hates Jews at least as much as it hates black people. The Klan also hates Catholics, Hindus and Muslims.

John David Washington, Laura Harrier, Adam Driver & Spike Lee at the premier of BlacKkKlansman

John David Washington, Laura Harrier, Adam Driver & Spike Lee at the premier of BlacKkKlansman

Meeting the Klan members is when we begin to get hints that the movie is going in a whole new direction. The Klan members have illegal guns and explosives and plan to use them. Some of the members are active duty Army soldiers and have been stealing explosives from the military.

Topher Grace as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman

Topher Grace as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman also shows the African-American side of this same period in American history. Some aspects of the late 1960s and early 1970s always seem silly. Giant Afros, sequined Bell Bottoms, and people using expressions like “right-on brother.” However, behind this silliness, were serious life-changing issues. As well as reporting on the Ku Klux Klan, Officer Ron Stallworth has been assigned to infiltrate the Black Student Union at the local college, to see if anyone is considering violent action against the police. There he meets and immediately falls in love with Patrice (Laura Harrier), the beautiful head of the Black Student Union. He cannot tell her who he really is, especially when she refers to all police officer as “pigs” and reserves her highest hatred for Black police officers. Ron keeps trying to convince her that the system can be changed for within.

Heather Danielle Heyer - murdered by a neo-Nazi

Heather Danielle Heyer – murdered by a neo-Nazi

The acting in BlacKkKlansman is powerful and comes from some unexpected sources. David Duke is played by Topher Grace, who most people remember best as Eric in That 70s Show. He is frighteningly realistic in the role as David Duke, the national director of the Ku Klux Klan. He is the well-spoken, reasonable face of the Klan. He states openly that his goal is to make the racist views of the Klan more and more acceptable to main stream America, until eventually a White Supremacist can get elected to the White House.

Harry Belafonte in BlacKkKlansman

Harry Belafonte in BlacKkKlansman

The most moving scene in BlacKkKlansman comes from Harry Belafonte, as Mr.Turrentine, an old man who is brought in as a guest speaker to the Black Student Union. He describes in graphic detail an event he witnessed as a young man. A friend of his had been accused of raping a White woman, and a crowd tortured, castrated and lynched the accused man. None of this is shown on screen. We just see the old Mr. Turrentine and hear his words. Somehow that is more powerful and real.

Trump statement about the KKK and David Duke

Trump statement about the KKK and David Duke

BlacKkKlansman is one of the best movies we have seen this year. It is also the most depressing, because there is the overwhelming feeling that things have not gotten better. The movie ends with news footage showing the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville Virginia, with gun toting White Supremacists carrying Nazi Flags. The news footage shows James Alex Fields drive his car into the crowd of peaceful counter-protestors, killing Heather Danielle Heyer. The film then switches to President Donald Trump refusing to condemn the White Supremacists and, in fact, stating that many of the Unite the Right group are “good people.”

So, BlacKkKlansman is a film that sneaks up on the audience and takes it in a totally unexpected path. That is part of what makes it so good. We saw BlacKkKlansman in a very crowded theater and yet there was dead silence when the movie ended. The stunned audience filed out quietly with their heads down; ashamed that America’s racial issues have not been solved, and frightened that perhaps they never will be.

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