No one will argue that Spike Lee has a penchant for creating films that spark controversy and point out social injustices. Films like Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X(1992), the TV mini-series When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006), andRodney King (2017) all wrestle with race relations and the tensions that build around them.
“BlacKkKlansman,” Lee’s most recent film, will be released in theaters this August. Hot summer temperatures often spark emotions in people, and if this film doesn’t turn up the heat, then nothing will. In competition at Cannes, the film walked away with the coveted Grand Prize of the Jury, receiving critical accolades all around.
Based on Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth, the film tells the remarkable story of the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police Department force. It’s the early 1970s, and civil rights for African-Americans in Colorado Springs are being threatened. The Ku Klux Klan has an active strong hold, and young Stallworth (John David Washington) is determined to stop their progress.
As unlikely as it sounds, Stallworth answers an ad placed in the local paper by the Klan. After a long series of phone conversations with Klan members, he finally lands an invitation. Obviously, he can’t attend the meeting in person.
Stallworth enlists the help of fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) who will infiltrate the group as a white version as Stallworth. In an unlikely twist of fate, when Klan leader David Duke (Topher Grace) comes to town, Chief of Police Bridges (Robert John Burke) assigns Stallworth to be Duke’s body guard. Now Stallworth has to sound more like a “brother,” so he doesn’t tip off some of the Klan members with whom he’s had very long and intense phone conversations. Life becomes complicated.
Thanks to Stallworth’s efforts, a number of Klan cells are exposed and ultimately eradicated. You’ll relax a little in this pervading sense of hopeful optimism brought about by the eradication of racial prejudice, bigotry and hate.
Don’t get comfortable. In an abrupt shift, the film suddenly cuts to real footage of the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Nazi flags waving amid shouts of hate speech. Then from an aerial shot, you see the car careen through the crowd of counter-protesters, hitting several of them. One person there to protest the protesters is Heather Heyer. If you followed the situation when it was in the news, you know that thirty-two year old Heather died that day.
Lee means to produce shock and awe to make his point, and he does. Most of the audience sat in stunned silence for a few minutes at the end of the Cannes screening. Lee’s message carries power; don’t become complacent and think everything’s just fine. It’s not.
Ratings not yet available.
Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and Glen Rose Reporter.