Lee’s BlacKkKlansman ties the present to the past

“Well, since you asked, I hate blacks. I hate Jews, Mexicans and Irish, Italians and Chinese, but my mouth to God’s ears, I really hate those black rats. And anyone else really that doesn’t have pure, white Aryan blood running through their veins.”

These racist, anti-semitic, hate filled words should not be funny. However, when delivered by John David Washington in Spike Lee’s latest directorial endeavor, they are. Washington plays the role of Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, in Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

The film’s narrative follows Stallworth as he gains the trust of his local Ku Klux Klan chapter through frequent phone calls. His partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), an undercover Jewish police officer, meets the Klan in his place when face-to-face contact is needed, forced to make extremely uncomfortable remarks such as that the Holocaust is one of the most beautiful events in history, just to prove to Klan members he wasn’t a Jew.  

Pretending to be white supremacists, the two grow close with the chapter president, gaining access to David Duke, then Grand Wizard of the Klan, former presidential candidate, and a current Trump supporter. It’s a story that one might confuse with Dave Chappelle’s character, Clayton Bigsby, the blind, black white supremacist from the first Chappelle’s Show season. But, Ron Stallworth is an entirely real person, who wrote about his experience with the Klan in his 2014 memoir.

The film’s dark comedy does not detract from the magnitude of Lee’s message for the film.  Racism did not die following the civil rights movement of the 1960s, contrary to what many movies or politicians might want us to believe. As shown just over a year ago in Charlottesville, Racism, and even the Klan, are still very active in America.

Throughout the movie, the characters seem to make references Donald Trump’s presidency, with members of the KKK chanting Trump’s rally chants such as “America First.”

In 2016, the Anti-Defamation League condemned Trump’s use of the phrase, explaining that “America First” has been a white supremacist mantra for decades now. Charles Lindbergh, former leader of the America First Committee and anti-semite, made claims that Jews posed a threat to the U.S. through their impact on pop culture, the press and government.

The Klan adopted “America First,” printing it on official Klan tokens and rally signs. The phrase is also commonly found in Klan litterature. However, that “America First” was not created by any white nationalist group. It has been used in political campaigns as far back as William McKinley in 1896, long before the term was used by the Klan.

Lee clearly draws a connection between Trump’s use of the phrase and the Klan’s. He even makes several allusions to Trump’s presidential campaign, with characters saying they want to “make America great again.”

The movie ends with a montage of the real David Duke endorsing Trump followed by footage from the Charlottesville rallies, with white supremacists, swastikas and all, marching through the streets with tiki torches, chanting the same phrases as the  KKK members in the movie. Lee refutes the claim that as a nation, we’ve improved and are intolerant to hateful acts and groups such as the KKK.

Washington and Driver’s on-screen chemistry is impeccable. The duo keeps the audience laughing while never distracting from the powerful message. The audience goes from laughter one second to tears the next.

BlacKkKlansman is Lee’s best directorial work since 4 Little Girls. From cinematography to set design, Lee’s vision for this movie is clear and well executed. Viewers of any political ideology should watch this movie. Even though the message may be viewed as polarizing, anyone can enjoy this film.