By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
It was appropriate that the new film “BlacKkKlansman,” directed by celebrated filmmaker Spike Lee and produced by Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, bookends the meat of the story between the beginning, which depicts scenes from “Gone With the Wind,” and the ending, which shows the racist neo-Nazi pro-tests of August 2017, in which Heather Heyer was killed when a white supremacist rammed her with an automobile in Charlottesville, Virginia.
One would think that the nearly 40 years since Colorado Springs, Colorado, police officer Ron Stall-worth joined the force and infiltrated the KKK would have wro-ught better race relations. Unfor- tunately, the years have gone by with what little progress that had been made being blatantly decimated during the past couple of years. I am not naïve enough to believe that there has not been racial strife in America, before Trump was elected President, but the ev-ents and racist outbursts are more visible lately.
Stallworth, played by John David Washington (Denzel’s son), was just a regular beat cop who wanted more, and his superiors decided to put him on undercover detail. It is noted that he was the first African-American cop on the force in the late 70s. His first assignment was following Colorado College’s Black Student Union, where he witness-ed the powerful oratory of Kwame Ture/Stokely Carmichael.
After that he happened upon a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan, and decided to check it out. He and his fellow officers devise a plan where he is the voice behind Stallworth (obviously using a white voice), and his partner Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, is the face of Stallworth.
What ensues is a deep dive into the mechanics of the KKK, with Stallworth getting closer and closer, and situations becoming more fraught with suspense and danger. It is a case study on the inner workings of the KKK, with the local Colorado Springs crew seen as blatant racists, planning clandestine white-robbed meetings, and dropping negative sound bites against the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr., David Bowie, James Brown and President John F. Kennedy, among others. They were eager to gain fresh meat into the organization in order to carry out their vicious attacks, while at the same time cautiously wondering what this new recruit could possibly be bringing into the fold.
Washington is great in his role as Stallworth, as he cleverly continues to disguise his voice and set up the KKK and particularly KKK leader David Duke, played by Topher Grace, and tip toes around the fact that he is an undercover cop in his relationship with Patrice Dumas, the Black Student Union President, played by Chicago native Laura Harrier. He is dogged in his pursuit of Patrice, and she is just as dogged in her activism during the Black Panther era, in the form of Angela Davis.
“BlacKkKlansman,” which won the Grand Prix prize at the recent Cannes Film Festival, is based on retired police detective Stallworth’s 2014 memoir titled Black Klansman. It is an unbelievable story that is brought to the big screen in at turns searing, suspenseful and satirical situations.
Of note is a spectacular scene where the legendary civil rights activist Harry Belafonte plays elder Jerome Turner and recounts the story of 17-year-old lynching victim Jessie Washington in 1916 in Waco, Texas. There is also Lee’s famous signature double dolly shot, wherein characters appear to be floating toward the camera. Of note also are performances by Michael Buscemi, Steve’s brother, as fellow cop Jimmy Creek; an appearance by Nicholas Turturro, whose brother John performed in his first Lee film “Do the Right Thing,” presently with a total of nine collaborations with Lee.
Another Lee collaborator Isiah Whitlock, Jr., has a brief appearance as Mr. Turrentine, with his classic line that is not suitable for a family newspaper. And not to be missed is the at times somber music of longtime Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard.
According to Yahoo Entertainment “BlacKkKlansman” came in fifth place during its first weekend, with $10.8 million in 1,500 locations, earning the 61-year-old Lee his best opening in more than a decade. The film is playing everywhere and even features a soulful rendition of “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep” by the late Prince.