Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” needs to be seen now, more than ever.
In the process of telling the story of a black undercover cop who joined the Ku Klux Klan, it makes connections to political activity today and shows just how situations have escalated. That David Duke is a thread between the 1970s and today is no mere coincidence.
Based on the life of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black cop in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the film shows how he and a fellow officer (Adam Driver) gained access to Klan meetings, the confidence of leaders and the ear of Duke (Topher Grace), the group’s Grand Wizard.
The goal was to ferret out how deep the Klan was in their seemingly quiet town. While it wasn’t difficult for Stallworth to see racism among his colleagues, this was stuff on another level. A simple phone call connected him to a leader (Ryan Eggold, who’s chillingly good) and, ultimately, a meeting. Driver's Flip Zimmerman then slipped in, pretended to be Stallworth and kept the ruse going.
Meanwhile, the Colorado State Black Student Union was organizing on another side of town. Stallworth started a relationship with its leader, Patrice (Laura Harrier), and moved in on two fronts.
While Lee adds flourishes (Alec Baldwin starts the film as a white supremacist spouting the company line), it’s the unvarnished cop story that attracts attention.
Because Zimmerman is Jewish, “BlacKkKlansman” addresses prejudice on another level, making this a chance for those unaffected to see just how hate speech lands.
There are cameos by folks like Harry Belafonte, ties to “Gone with the Wind” and “The Birth of a Nation,” and footage from the protests in Charlottesville.
But it’s the cool performances by Eggold, Grace and others that land. On the surface, they don’t appear to be the hate-spouting leaders of an organization like the KKK. But behind closed doors, they’re justification for the undercover work done by the two cops.
While Lee doesn’t say what Stallworth and Zimmerman are doing today (apparently Zimmerman was a name the director used to mask the identity of a man who has never come forth publicly), he does take the pulse of the nation. The real David Duke is seen in news footage; familiar political themes are connected to the KKK.
No stranger to controversy, Lee cuts closer to the bone than Michael Moore ever did. While “Klansman” is a good thriller (despite some of its simple infiltration techniques), it’s a more telling study of human behavior.