Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is an anomaly, the first in his field and a man with one incredible story to tell.
The first African-American police officer from Colorado and the first African-American police officer to successfully infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white officer surrogate (Adam Driver). Ron finds his infiltration brings a meteoric rise to head of the local branch and unprecedented access to the grand high wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).
The story sounds farcical, an urban myth or perhaps complete fallacy but this is a true story through which Spike Lee takes aim not only at the past, the present and the future of America.
The trailer may show the humour of the film but this is a very clever marketing strategy. A strategy to entice and swerve the potential viewer into a place of comfort and purchasing a ticket. Once inside however the mood quickly changes. There is humour to be found in the film, it's hard not to laugh at Ron using his 'white voice' on the phone or laugh along with him and his colleagues corpsing as the Klan's Grand Wizard responds with enthusiasm and praise for Ron's derogatory slurs on the African-American community. We are all in on the joke at this point but things very quickly change. This is not a comedy, we are not in our seats to laugh our troubles away, with great ease and precision Lee takes the viewer into the political, into the horror and into the all to current reality of society's flaws.
There is a lot of run time dedicated to white hate speech, this is deeply uncomfortable and unsettling. A sequence with the members gathered watching Birth of a Nation, whooping and cheering their brethren on as if watching some form of sport made me squirm more than once in my chair. Stallworth listening in to conversation on a shooting range and then being confronted with the targets deep in the woods also chilled me. The prevalence of this type of speech and these ideas and actions is done with intention, you are to ask how and why this can tolerated not only in the movie itself but in the fresh air outside of your multiplex experience.
There has been criticism of the film in some quarters, most notably Boots Riley regarding the depiction of the police force in the film. Some se them as being too on the side of right in the film. However to me the film clearly shows that not police are well intentioned. Stallworth deals with racism from his own colleagues as well as scenes depicting some of their actions in the streets bring not a full story perhaps but an attempt to balance out both sides of the coin.
The final scenes of the film bring a chilling end to the story in Stallworth's case quickly cutting to scenes events in Charlottesville just over a year ago. Those final scenes are so chilling and impactful as they speak to something we all knew before the film started. The fight against hatred has been a long one, there have been many victories of varying ins scale along the way, but there is still much to be done.
BlacKkKlansman (Cert. 15) is in cinemas now.