Even though BlacKkKlansman is shrouded in a 1970’s aesthetic – the fashion, soundtrack, and Shaft references make it obvious – you wouldn’t go so far as to name Spike Lee’s latest a period piece. The America depicted here, where white cops murder and harass black citizens, doesn’t exactly differ from the America of today, and it’s evident that that is the point Lee is intending to drive home, doing so in a constant fashion throughout before climaxing the film with real footage that explicitly states his case.
As we read in the opening moments, BlacKkKlansman is based on “Some Fo’ Real, Fo’ Real Shit”, detailing the true account of black Colorado Springs police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington, son of Denzel) and his eventual infiltration of the Klu Klux Klan. Often engaging in phone conversations with the organisation, masquerading as a kindred spirit of sorts (Stallworth’s phone manner was suitably Caucasian) for good measure, the ruse seemed fool-proof until meeting the KKK in person became a reality.
Needing a face to go with the voice, BlacKkKlansman offers up a Cyrano de Bergerac-type situation where fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is roped in to pass himself off as Stallworth for the face-to-face meetings. The potential comedic fare and situational tension that could arise from the film’s hook is never explored to its fullest – save for a wildly tense moment where Flip talks his way out of taking a lie detector test – but perhaps that’s more to do with Lee’s limited details on the story at hand than his abilities as a storyteller; though his insistence on overtly long speeches does occasionally stall the film’s vibe.
Ultimately though, BlacKkKlansman is a film that’s been made to educate rather than entertain, and whilst us Australian audiences are likely to be hit as hard as Lee intended, it’s difficult to not think the United States is his biggest target; a gag regarding the country never being stupid enough to elect a figure like KKK leader David Duke (played here to uncomfortable perfection by Topher Grace) clearly echoes the current thought process. This is an angry film, and though racism is essentially the issue it’s tackling the most, hate against a minority group of any sort is something that runs rampant under the surface of this assaulting feature. You may not enjoy what you see but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t stay with you regardless.