Cinema: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ A Call To Action

Spike Lee’s latest movie, BlacKkKlansman is a nuanced and hard-hitting look at the social landscape of the 1970’s and how it mirrors today. The film parallels the same struggles African American’s fought against in the 1970’s as they do today such as police brutality and hate groups, whether it be the KKK in the 70's or the Neo-Nazis from the 2017 Charlottesville Riot. This very timely film contains themes of racism, the power that racism holds, the normalization of and politicization of hate, and whether real change can be made from within an already established system. These are issues that are more important than ever in our current political landscape. With immigration on the forefront of this presidency and the emphasis on the wall between Mexico and the US, and an us versus them mentality, racism it seems, is becoming more and more acceptable. BlacKkKlansman serves as the perfect wake-up call that we can’t sit idly by anymore and allow this movement of the hate to grow any further.

Spike Lee is no stranger to controversy and he has been known to speak his mind without filters.  While his intentions may be coming from a good place sometimes he can go too far, like the time he re-tweeted what he thought was the address of George Zimmerman after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, despite it belonging to a couple unrelated to the incident. Regardless of him sometimes getting caught up in the moment, he is still a force to be reckoned with behind the camera. His films often carry strong messages, and reflect his lack of fear in speaking about what he believes in. Spike Lee is not the kind of man to sugarcoat his words and neither are his films. They can be raw and hard to watch at times, but they’re all the more effective because of it. BlacKkKlansman is no different.

Based on true events, BlacKkKlansman tells the story of Colorado Springs’ first African-American cop, Ron Stallworth and how he managed to infiltrate his local KKK chapter. Posing as a white man on the phone, Stallworth used a white undercover cop to portray himself in person during Klan meetings, contacted David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the KKK personally and even managed to convince Duke to personally approve his paperwork to join. After leading a successful infiltration, the case was closed and Stallworth was forced to keep the details of this undercover mission secret for decades. It wasn’t until 2014, that Stallworth published a tell-all book and it took four more years until Spike Lee would bring that story to the big screen.

The main focus of the film is on the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK has existed as far back as the Civil War but has gone through several changes throughout the years. One thing that has never changed about the group though, is how it fosters hate and encourages discrimination and prejudice against anyone who isn’t what they consider true white. They are the source of nearly all of the conflict in BlacKkKlansman, and it becomes Stallworth’s main goal to disrupt them in whatever way he can within the constraints of the law. Stallworth’s girlfriend gives him a lot of flak, claiming that real change can only be made from outside an already established system, but as Stallworth proves, that isn’t always the case. Unfortunately as time has shown, change is slow and the events of this movie haven't prevented the KKK from existing.

The footage at the end of the film depicting the real-life The Charlottesville Riots was devastating.  I can’t remember another movie’s ending that hit me that hard. It’s one thing to see characters abused in a  movie, but to see actual people getting mowed down by a car and brutally fighting each other is haunting. James Alex Fields Jr. killed one woman and injured nineteen more in his abhorrent car attack. The film is dedicated to Heather Heyer the victim who died. Listening to our very own president defend the actions of Nazis is beyond disheartening. Appropriately, the movie ends with an upside-down American flag to reflect that our country is in trouble and that it’s time to act. It’s near impossible to leave an ending like this, without feeling betrayed, lost and doubtful in your own country. As horrible as feeling this is, it’s important for audiences to experience. Issues in this country aren’t going to be fixed if no one is acknowledging them.  The movie leads by example as it makes audiences watch real-life hate in action and show Stallworth doing what he can to stoke his undercover partner into caring about the significance of their mission outside of it just being another job.

The importance of movies like BlacKkKlansman can’t be overstated. It’s the kind of film that this country needs to help wake people up and convince them to take a more active part in politics and society in general. The issues of this country aren’t going to be resolved on their own and not every politician has everyone’s best interest in mind. With less than 60% of eligible voters taking part in the 2016 election, we can’t afford a similar turnout in 2020. Until then, everyone needs to do what they can and take a page from BlacKkKlansman. It’s time to stand up against racism and prejudice of any kind, to lead by the example of Ron Stallworth, and to work your best to abolish the racism and hate that exists in your own field like Ron Stallworth did. Of course, not everyone is likely to listen to what BlacKkKlansman has to say, but those who are willing might discover in themselves a renewed hope and fire within themselves to bring about real change.