The blog post, ‘BlacKkKlansman (2018) movie review’, is sponsored by ODEON Cinemas. Sign up for a Limitless card and see as many films as you want from as little as €19.99 a month – or go check out one of their many screens, where they still serve Ben & Jerry’s AND you can get chocolate IN your popcorn. Yes, really.
It’s rather fortuitous that I watched BlacKkKlansman in the same week as one of my favourite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend, released an episode titled ‘White fragility’, examining the ways in which white women tend to baulk when called out about their complicity in a systemically racist and sexist system that gives them advantages over Black women. (Read that sentence twice; I know it’s a bit of a tongue-twister.)
In fact, I’ve seen BlacKkKlansman twice now – the first time, at the premiere, where Spike Lee was beamed in after the movie for a live Q&A. The second viewing had less fanfare about it (but more Ben & Jerry’s), which in a way allowed me to really absorb what was going on.
BlacKkKlansman is a tale of two halves
On the surface, BlacKkKlansman is a comedy – a semi-true (but largely fictionalised) account of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who succeeded in infiltrating the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a cop caper, a story of intrigue and subterfuge and kind of obvious jokes about the way Black people speak (vs the way white people do, which Ron characterises as being the difference between speaking the Queen’s English and speaking “jive”).
Beneath the laughs and the will-they-get-away-with-it suspense plot, however, it’s a tale of identity. It’s a question of how we are seen, versus how we identify – its theme lies in the conversation Ron (John David Washington) and Patrice (Laura Harrier) have about being both Black and American, and never quite feeling fully either (or both).
It’s a theme that is brought strongly to the fore, too, when Flip (Adam Driver) talks about his own Jewish identity, about being Jewish but never actually being Jewish; he’s been passing for a WASP his whole life, something he took for granted until he goes undercover with the KKK.
It’s in comparisons that BlacKkKlansman truly comes alive
The most arresting moments of BlacKkKlansman are the moments of juxtaposition – of KKK members chanting “white power” while members of the Black Students’ Union chant “black power” at a talk on racial violence; of the white supremacists, cuddling in bed, while the Black couple answers the door, guns in their hands; of countryside and urban sprawl; of safety and danger; of 1970s racist America and the America of 2018.
There are moments that feel over-egged – as if Lee felt like we wouldn’t truly get the message unless he drove it home, full force – but BlacKkKlansman is a fun film with a sting in its tail that will entertain you for two hours before driving its devastating point home in the most unexpected way.