A review by Shlomoh Sherman
August 13, 2018
Read about BlacKkKlansman
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, Ron Stallworth [based on his the autobiographical book]
Stars: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier |
Plot Summary: Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.
Plot Keywords: ku klux klan - undercover cop - race relations - racism - integration
Taglines: Infiltrate Hate.
Genres: Biography - Comedy - Crime - Drama
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA): Rated R for language throughout, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and some sexual references
Parents Guide: See below
Release Date: August 10, 2018 (USA)
Also Known As: Black Klansman
Filming Locations: Ossining, New York, USA
Production Co: 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Blumhouse Productions, Legendary Entertainment
Runtime: 2h 15min
Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos
Awards and nominations: see below
In the opening credits, Spike Lee lets the audience know that this movie is based upon a real life set of events. To quote Spike, "Dis joint is based upon some fo' real, fo' real shit!" To quote a popular axiom, YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS KIND OF SHIT UP!
Back in the early 1970s, the town of Colorado Springs began to integrate its police force. One of the first black officers hired was Ron Stallworth, a Colorado police officer. Stallworth was informed by the police recruiter that probably every police force in the country has its share of racist cops. When asked what he would do if one of his fellow officers called him "nigger", Stallworth answered, "Well I'd have to turn the other cheek."
Stallworth is a highly educated man with an alpha personality who can handle himself in rough situations but his talents are initially wasted when he is given a desk job. After a short while, he complains to his commanding officer that he joined the force to work out on the streets with the neighnorhood community, not to push papers. His sergeant informs him that as a rookie, he will have to work his way up to become a patrolman.
Shortly thereafter, the black fraternity of a local college is hosting Kwame Ture [Stokely Carmichael] as a speaker to inspire the students to make themselves part of the newly emerging Black Power movement. Stallworth's sergeant asks him if he wants to volunteer to attend the meeting as undercover. Stallworth accepts the job eagerly. At the meeting, he meets one of the organizers, Patrice Dumas, to whom he is attracted and with whom he ultimately falls in love. Stallworth reports back to his superiors that the meeting was highly emotionally charged with Carmichael exhorting the students not to put up with the white man's racism and demeaning behavior but that no violence actually was preached.
Not long after, Stallworth reads that the KKK is planning a march and demonstration in Colorado Springs. An idea germanates in his mind so audacious that when he tells his sergeant and his fellow officers about it, they can hardly believe what he is saying. In effect, he plans to become a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the first nonwhite to do so, and thereby infiltrate the organization.
His plan, successfully executed, is to phone the Klan's office and ingratiate himself with the local organizer, praising the work of the Klan and wishing to become a member.
When his superiors asked him how he planned to meet the Klan members in person, obviously being black, Stallworth answered that he would be the avid racist on the phone but that a white policeman would have to pose as him in actual person to person meetings with the Klan members.
Phillip [Flip] Zimmerman, a Jewish police officer, volunteers to act as Stallworth when attending Klan meetings.
I don't wish to reveal more of the story except to say that when he discovers that his girlfriend, Patrice, will be at a students' meeting that the Klan plans to bomb, Stallworth feels that he must warn her and thereby reveal that he is an undercover cop. I will leave it to you to see the movie to find out how that divulgence is resolved.
Stallworth did actually impress the Klan members to the extent that he became the head of the local chapter, even becoming a favorite of David Duke, Grand Wizzard of the Louisiana Klan.
An article in the August 13, 2018 issue of the Los Angeles Times tells that David Duke called Stallworth to say that he was unhappy with how he is portrayed in the movie. Duke told him that he didn't want to be portrayed in a bad light. Duke told Stallworth, "I encouraged people a couple of times to buy your book [upon which the movie is based] and read it." Still, Duke said his recollection of the events differed from how they were told in the book and movie.
David Duke didn’t find out that he was black until 2006, when a reporter called the Klan leader to fact-check Stallworth’s story, according to an August 10 article in the online magazine, SLATE.
The actor, Topher Grace, who plays David Duke, incredibly resembles the real Duke, as can be seen in the side by side photo.
Harry Belafonte has a cameo as Jerome Turner, a judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, appointed by Ronald Reagan, from December 9, 1987 to February 12, 2000. There is a scene in which Turner addresses the Black Students Union, telling them about how white America simply accepted racism and believed the false charges against blacks. Clips from the film, Birth of a Nation, are shown. Turner tells the students that president Woodrow Wilson showed the movie at the White House
After that viewing, Wilson supposedly said, “It’s like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true.” Until “Gone With the Wind”, “The Birth of a Nation” was the top Hollywood moneymaker. The film is based on the novel and play “The Clansman” (1905) by Southern Baptist minister Thomas Dixon Jr., who is reported to have wept with rage on seeing a stage version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the most famous of all anti-slavery works. Dixon considered “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” to be a complete lie. “The Clansman” was his answer to it, and the impact of “The Clansman” remains to this day.
If you do choose to see the movie, be prepared for the verbally brutal racist language that pervades it from beginning to end. Normally, as a comedian, non pollitically correct language doesn't bother me. But the emotionally intense hatred behind the words spoken by the actors had a viscerally toxic affect on me.
The website at https://www.slashfilm.com/blackkklansman-ending/ has this to comment:
As in most of my reviews, I include an excerpt from reviewers on the Internet Movie Database. Below is an excerpt from SymbioteLord11's IMDB August 10, 2018 [opening day] review:
There are parts of SymbioteLordii's remarks with which I agree but overall I enjoyed the movie and believe it's worth seeing. Although I am not a fan of Spike Lee, I have enjoyed some of his films including GET ON THE BUS, SUMMER OF SAM [both reviewed here on this website], INSIDE MAN, and MALCOLM X.
KUDOS TO John David Washington as Ron Stallworth. Lee wanted Denzel Washington to play the role but it was pointed out to him that Denzel is too old for the part. Consequently it was played by Denzel's talented son, John David.
The real David Duke called Ron Stallworth to express his concern over his "baffoonish, cartoonish idiot" portrayal in the film. Duke also said he respected Spike Lee. After seeing the film he wasn't pleased that the film didn't follow the events of the book. David Duke did not discover that Ron Stallworth is a black man until 2006, when a Miami Herald reporter contacted him for his side of the story.
The film features the late musician Prince singing "Mary, Don't You Weep" over the end credits. This is a previously unreleased live rehearsal recording.
During an interview with Dave Karger at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, Topher Grace said that once he got the role and during the filming, he was not allowed to tell anyone that he was playing David Duke.
Spike Lee and his writers have moved the story back 7 years from when it actually took place in 1979 to 1972. This allowed the film to reference both the then trendy blaxploitation movies and the re-election campaign, supposedly supported by the Klan, of President Richard Nixon.
Contrary to popular belief, the real Ron Stallworth never used a "white" voice on the phone, he ironically had to use his real voice or they would have caught him if he slipped out of character. When his white colleagues told him it couldn't work, he asked what made his voice any different from theirs but they never answered.
John David Washington is the son of Denzel Washington, who appeared in four films directed by Spike Lee.
John David Washington made his film debut as a 6-year-old Harlem classroom student in Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1992) that featured his dad Denzel Washington and his grandmother Lennis Washington.
Spike directed Denzel Washington (John David Washington's father) in Malcolm X (1992).
AWARDS AND NOMINATIONS FOR BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)
Cannes Film Festival 2018
Jerusalem Film Festival 2018
Locarno International Film Festival 2018
Sydney Film Festival 2018
PARENTS GUIDE FOR BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)
SEX & NUDITY
VIOLENCE & GORE
ALCOHOL, DRUGS & SMOKING
FRIGHTENING & INTENSE SCENES
Cast overview, first billed only:
Alec Baldwin ... Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard
John David Washington ... Ron Stallworth
Isiah Whitlock Jr. ... Mr. Turrentine
Robert John Burke ... Chief Bridges
Brian Tarantina ... Officer Clay Mulaney
Arthur J. Nascarella ... Officer Wheaton
Ken Garito ... Sergeant Trapp
Frederick Weller ... Master Patrolman Andy Landers
Adam Driver ... Flip Zimmerman
Michael Joseph Buscemi ... Jimmy Creek
Laura Harrier ... Patrice Dumas
Damaris Lewis ... Odetta
Ato Blankson-Wood ... Hakeem
Corey Hawkins ... Kwame Ture [Stokely Carmichael]
Dared Wright ... Officer Cincer
Topher Grace ... David Duke
Harry Belafonte ... Jerome Turner
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