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Oscars 2018 Best Picture Review: BlacKkKlansman

blackkklansman

John David Washington (right) and Adam Driver (left) play a pair set out to stop a racist bomb attack in BlacKkKlansman.

I admit I missed BlacKkKlansman when it first came out. Actually I saw very few movies in the summer of 2018. I finally had the chance to see it this week, and I was very happy with what I saw.

The film begins in 1957 with Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard speaking for a propaganda film for the KKK about the ‘terrible dangers’ of desegregation. The film then proceeds to the early 1970’s in Colorado Springs. Ron Stallworth is being interviewed for the police force by a white cop and a black consultant. Through the interview process, Stallworth becomes the first black police officer for the city, but is given marginalized duties like file and document retrieval. Stallworth then decides he wants to do undercover work.

His first operation is for a rally of an African American activist Kwame Ture, whom the police view as a threat. Stallworth poses undercover with a hidden microphone to record the rally. There he meets Patrice Dumas who heads the black students union at the local university. The words of Kwame sound threatening to the ears of the white policemen. Patrice then goes with Kwame to a hotel where they’re stopped by racist white patrolman Andy Landers. At the arrest, Landers threatens Kwame and gropes Patrice. After the arrest, Ron meets Patrice at a club and they dance their cares away.

Stallworth is soon transferred to the intelligence division. One day he learns of a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth decided to investigate by posing as white on the phone to chapter president Walker Breachway and having his Jewish colleague Philip ‘Flip’ Zimmerman pose as him whenever meeting the Klan in person. Zimmerman reluctantly agrees at first. He goes to the first meeting where he meets Breachway, the more hostile Felix Kendrickson and Ivanhoe, who subtly talks about an upcoming attack.

Zimmerman signs up for Klan membership under Stallworth’s name and Stallworth calls Klan headquarters to expedite his membership and speaks to Grand Wizard David Duke. The next meeting is at Kendrickson’s house. We learn that Felix’s wife Connie is just as racist. However Felix, being the loose cannon that he is, senses Zimmerman to be Jewish and tries to get him to pass a lie detector test. Before Zimmerman submits, Stallworth, who’s listening into everything with Zimmerman wired, smashes a window. Later on, the romance between Stallworth and Patrice heats up, but he doesn’t tell her he’s part of the police because of her anti-police attitude.

Stallworth is getting more active in his searching results. He learns two men of the KKK are in a branch of the US Air Force. In the meantime, Stallworth’s name is growing with the KKK. Zimmerman, while attending a shooting practice, learns of an attack planned at a student rally; the rally Patrice plans to attend. Zimmerman knows an explosion is planned as he knows Breachway makes bombs. Meanwhile David Duke travels to Colorado Springs to be at his induction and Breachway is willing to transfer his leadership to Zimmerman posing as Stallworth. Zimmerman declines, but his swearing in ceremony, along with other new members, goes as planned. However not without a KKK member noticing Zimmerman from an arrest years ago. He even remembers his nickname ‘Flip.’

As the swearing in is taking place, the attack at the student rally however does not because Connie noticed the huge police attendance. After the rally, Patrice learns the truth about Stallworth. Stallworth admits the truth and leaves Patrice in a question of principles. Her association with her anti-police group or Stallworth. With the attack at the rally botched, Connie wants to take the bombing to Patrice’s house. Connie can’t put the bomb in Patrice’s mailbox while Stallworth tracked Connie and tries to save Patrice by stopping Connie. However two policemen, who don’t know about the planned sting, think Stallworth is an attacker. It’s not until Zimmerman and another police ally arrive that they learn of the truth. Breachway sets the bomb off, but Breachway, Felix and Ivanhoe are the only fatalities.

It’s not over yet. Stallworth and Patrice are in a bar with other cops. Along comes Officer Landers. Patrice tries to get Landers to confess, which he brags about with no remorse. He tries to attack Ron and Patrice, but the police arrest Landers. With the sting over, and Connie a widow behind bars, the police order to burn all records. Stallworth makes one last call to David Duke to deliver him the shocking truth! The story ends with Ron and Patrice contemplating their future, but are interrupted by an image of a burning cross. The film, however, ends with images of the Unite The Right rally in August 2017 and Donald Trump’s lack of action to it.

There’s no doubt the object of the story is racism. Spike Lee has used racism as a theme of focus, if not the prime theme, in his films. The best example is Do The Right Thing. Spike has always maintained his films are about ‘being black in White America.’ However the film tackles the subject of hate groups. He focuses on how they don’t just have a message of racial superiority to promote. They also promote a false sense of fear and a hostility to prove their point. The groups may claim to be non-violent or not one to attack, but that’s further from the truth. That’s made most obvious when Stallworth examines the shooting targets and they’re the images of running African-Americans. The fact that they practice shooting and making bombs shows the evil behind their agenda that they try to make to look friendly. Lee makes that point in that film rehearsal at the beginning of the film. Lee shows of all the falsified news of the surrounding events the Klan deliver to their members before the bombing. Lee also shows that in the Unite The Right footage, that it’s a battle that still continues today. They may have overcome a lot, but there’s still much more to overcome. In the story, Lee sends the message that the Colorado Springs Police may have won this battle, but they didn’t win the whole war. Not while the KKK is a nationwide brotherhood.

The film obviously has a message to send, but it doesn’t forget that it’s a film that has a story to tell. It’s a good intriguing cat-and-mouse story about a local group of the KKK planning a bombing of a group of black students and the black detective who brings them down along with his Jewish guise. It has a good beginning, middle and end that will keep the viewer intrigued. It also incorporates a lot with the entertainment of African-Americans, like the music and the ‘blaxploitation’ films of the 70’s, into the story. It also includes a lot of references to entertainment that send a racist message like Tarzan and The Birth Of A Nation as to why the problem of racism still exists today. However his use of entertainment for thematic purposes doesn’t cause the film to lose its focus. Lee also mixes in another message he appears to question. At a time like where the Black Lives Matter movement has arrived, it appears Lee is critical of a lot of anti-police attitudes of these groups. The police do have history of racism, but what are they to think when the police come to their rescue? That poses as the moral question for Patrice at the end, especially since it could affect her love for Ron. I think Lee was trying to place his own viewpoint here.

No doubt about it, the top accomplishment is that of Spike Lee. Lee has had a mixed career. He’s had accomplishments like Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, but he’s had many duds too. I still consider Do The Right Thing to be his best work, but this is an excellent story that he made work. The story he co-wrote with Wachtel, Rabinowitz and Willmott is a good complex story with a lot to say. The messages Lee tries to put in the story does not take away from the story itself. It actually adds. However it also succeeds in being a comedy with a lot of humorous moments. I think Lee also wanted to show off the stupidity of these racist groups too.

The top acting comes from John David Washington. The son of Denzel, John David delivers an excellent performance that he can rightfully call his breakthrough. He delivers the right acting for the right film. Also excellent is Adam Driver. In playing Stallworth’s Jewish partner, Driver delivers his role well while revealing the personal insecurity inside his Jewish character. I think Lee’s message was also to send how white superiority doesn’t only affect blacks. There were also a lot of excellent supporting performances coming from the likes of Laura Harrier as Patrice, Jasper Paakkonen as the walking time-bomb Felix, Topher Grace as David Duke and Ashlie Atkinson as the hyper-hostile Connie. The films inclusion of music from the past and original score from Terence Blanchard also adds to the film.

BlacKkKlansman obviously has a message to say. However it still succeeds in being a film with a thrilling plot, which makes it a winner of a film.

And there you go! This makes it the eighteenth straight years I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees of the year before Oscar night. My predictions for the Oscar wins coming soon.

 

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