Bottom Line: BlacKkKlansman is an electric, jarring, disturbing, and subversively funny film from one of contemporary cinema’s most vital and necessary filmmakers.
BlacKkKlansman is streaming on HBO, Direct TV, and Cinemax and is available to rent or purchase through most streaming services.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace.
Winner of the Grand Prix at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, BlacKkKlansman put Spike Lee back on the map, proving to be his most commercially successful film since 2007’s Inside Man and lauded by many critics as one of his finest cinematic achievements.
Set in the early ‘70s, the film tells the true story of a black detective who successfully infiltrates a Colorado chapter of the KKK.
The film premiered on the heels of mounting racial tension in the U.S. and it is to Spike Lee’s credit that he approaches this disharmony from multiple angles: anger, cheeky irony, stoicism, trenchant allusions to cinema’s racist past, and, at the close of the film, a moving and sobering wake-up call to America’s ongoing racial tension.
For nearly forty years and across over thirty films, Spike Lee has remained a vital and necessary filmmaker. And BlacKkKlansman—released in the late-summer of 2018—proves to be one of his most vital and necessary films to date. This is high praise—particularly for a filmmaker whose greatest work has frequently and brilliantly confronted weighty and important themes like racial identity, individual liberation within a group, and power in America: Do the Right Thing, Malcom X, Jungle Fever, Bamboozled, 25th Hour, and now BlacKkKlansman. The polemical style of these films and their racially-charged subject matter can often overshadow just how great Spike Lee is as a craftsperson of cinematic entertainment. He’s an expert at genre and his best films crosscut assuredly from tone to tone, creating an expansive and varied cinematic experience.
This masterful ease with genre is frequently on display in BlacKkKlansman. In addition to being a thrilling and idiosyncratic story of undercover infiltration, BlacKkKlansman is also a story of individual identity, a sobering history of cinema’s racist past, a buddy cop movie, a love story, and a sobering reminder of where we are today.
It’s also a highly stylized film, with a lovely spontaneous dance sequence, affectionate attention to the warm autumnal colors of the ‘70s, and, most importantly, a heightened depiction of racial hate-speech that brilliantly shows the ridiculous vacuousness of racist ideology. Lee takes the KKK seriously, but instead of joylessly and crudely depicting the Klan members—as D.W. Griffith caricatured African Americans in The Birth of a Nation—instead Lee deflates the power of their threat by satirizing them as buffoons.
At the movie’s heart, BlacKkKlansman is about the stories we haven’t yet reckoned with. Lee’s career, in part, has been a deconstruction of our history–both individual and political–questioning the histories that have been given and taken away from his characters. He’s a truth-seeker, and though his films are frequently described as “didactic,” nevertheless Spike Lee’s depiction of truth invariably explores the contradictory character of truth, personal identity, history, and representation.