It's rated R because it deals with some intensely ugly stuff. Needless to say, it has language. We all know curse words and hate speech, but this is used with the intention of being hateful speech. It's words being used with the knowledge that you should find it cringeworthy. If you don't find it cringeworthy, that's a real problem. There's also intense violence and threats of violence all over this film. Also, there is footage of real world violence. It's actual people dying and that's something you have to be prepared to absorb. An R rating because the world is an ugly place.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
Man, I love Spike Lee when he's doing his thing. I tend to get really engrossed with Spike Lee films, but a lot of them have dropped the ball at one point or another. The last one I really got into was Red Hook Summer, but then the end completely disappointed me. Really, I haven't seen such a good Spike Lee film since Do the Right Thing and I think a lot of that comes from producer Jordan Peele.
Sorry to Bother You and BlacKkKlansman were watched over the same weekend. I threw them on my Netflix DVD account on the same day when I saw they were featured in the Redbox kiosk at Meijer. I'm glad to have seen them before the year ended, but I also realized that these thematically similar movies were also probably my favorite movies of the year. I know that we still have a few more Oscar bait ones coming out next week, but I do want to talk about how good these movies really were, especially in tandem. Spike Lee has this voice that I absolutely adore in film. It's angry, but controlled. That's pretty unique. This film is crafted so beautifully that I can't help but marvel at the details. Structurally, there's this weird format that I'm not sure that I've seen done. Some might be quick to dismiss it as bookending the film, but it is something far different than that. The beginning starts with Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard. This character never shows up again, but I was sure that he was based on a real dude. (He's more of an amalgamation of dudes, based on my limited research.) Beauregard glorifies Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, instantly establishing setting and mood for the film. As a teacher of Birth of a Nation, I really have a hard time really conveying how damaging that film was to the national psyche. The kids get that it sucks and sucks hard, but when I talk about the second rise of the Klan, they don't get how insane that was. The beginning of BlacKkKlansman (Safely one of the more tedious titles to type) really sells it how I want to. The only problem is that I'm not allowed to say the f-word to my students, nor show them a clip that says it regularly.) But in a three to five minute sequence, Lee manages to convey how toxic art can be if used irresponsibly. It's powerful stuff.
This leads into the end of the film. When you Google BlacKkKlansman, a lot of the articles discuss the insanity of the ending. The ending is well earned. There really are two endings: Ron Stallworth's ending (which is powerful) and the ending to the film, which is insanely powerful. I want to talk about the epilogue because we should be moved by the end of the film. I tend not to talk politics in real life because I'm bad at it and it is really hard to change people's minds. But that ending sells what I've been feeling since early last year. Is it biased? Heck yeah. Should it be biased? Heck yeah. Art is meant to challenge you and try to change your mind. Yeah, I'm confirmation biased right now because Lee says what I'm thinking with his ending. But I really like how much is said when it is devoid of talking heads. I acknowledge that he's Kuleshoving the whole thing. Juxtaposition matters. But Ron Stallworth's (Hollywood) true story once again has meaning. I tend to be really hesitant to get on board biopics because they tend to be feel goodery. There might be a light message that we can apply to our lives, but it is mainly meant to be entertainment; a balm to our stress. BlacKkKlansman is an entertaining story. Lee ensures that through his love of Blaxsploitation films. But the movie instantly gains this insane gravitas because of the way that the intro and conclusion provide commentary to the events of Ron Stallworth's life. I'm sure political Henson wouldn't be shocked by the video. I'm sure he's seen it dozens of times. But I've only seen that footage edited and with a commentary attached. It is painful to watch, as well it should be.
I want to say that I see Jordan Peele on the screen up there as well. This movie doesn't always feel like A Spike Lee Joint. Rather, there's something contemporary about the way this movie is filmed. Lee's movies always kind of had an indie cred to them. I loved the way his other movies looked, but it is nice to see just a change in vision. The movie makes what should be a fairly straightforward movie fairly complex. Cinematography wise, it is a pretty looking movie. The setting of 1970s Colorado really works for the film. It is 1970s. The soundtrack, the hair, the talk, all '70s. But these characters really ride that line well of being a timeless character and being entrenched in their political climate. It's so interesting to see the connections between the student unions of the '70s and the move to improve things of today. There's this look at the past and the conversation that things have gotten better, only to be aware that things have stayed the same in their own ways. Lee doesn't really give the Klan any sympathy and I applaud that. He's making a movie where there is a clear good guy and a clear bad guy and that works well in this movie. I'm watching Supergirl, which is having racism as its focus for this season. There's a Ben Shapiro character who is the clear villain of the story, but he has sympathetic moments. Rather, the world of BlacKkKlansman is one where people choose to embrace hate because they are sick of being out of power. There is no nuance there. These are disenfranchised white people wanting the power back. There is no intellectual who is really leading the movement. Rather, this is evil for evil's sake and they are doing awful things out of pure, unadulterated hate. There is an element of Ben Shapiro in David Duke. I remember David Duke when I was a kid. It's really scary to think how close he got to the presidency. I don't want to go into a Trump tirade, but I didn't know that David Duke was still vocal today. That's really upsetting. The David Duke angle of the whole story is the most interesting of all. I just read the fact v. fiction articles of the movie versus the memoir and David Duke is actually involved in real life. Duke is the charismatic festering boil of the whole thing. Convinced of his own rightness and his own whiteness, he is the intellectual who convinces scores of people to join the Klan. It is through Duke that Lee is able to effectively communicate why the Klan is so much more prevalent than I thought it was. Constantly referring to itself as the "Invisible Empire", the Klan is far more impressive of an organization than I thought it was. My parents live near an area that apparently had some Klan activity. I always thought it was a dying organization. But Lee sells the idea that it is far more impressive than we previously thought.
I love the dynamics between all of the characters. The character relationships are far different in the movie than they are in reality, but I can only attest to what I've seen in the film. John David Washington's Ron Stallworth and Adam Driver's Flip are perfect together. The movie instantly places Stallworth in what it, in its own words, is a Jackie Robinson situation. Lee takes this interesting shortcut to make sure that the film is about the investigation and the characters rather than rehashing a story we have seen before. Stallworth's life is pretty terrible as a pioneer, but the focus isn't on that. Rather, this becomes context for the character and becomes part of the setting. Flip is still anonymous in real life. The Adam Driver version of the character is pretty fictionalized, but it is interesting that Lee decided to create the character to be Jewish. A movie named BlacKkKlansman would be a pretty tough sell if there wasn't "some skin in the game" as the movie puts it. Stallworth is a Klansman in name and voice. Flip is the one in the field and the choice to make him passing is an interesting one. It gives him another level and I think that the movie needs it. Laura Harrier's Patrice is a completely fictional character, but I like that she is able to voice a concern that I have. Considering that so much of this film is tied to Black Lives Matter, Patrice is the one who voices the concern that Stallworth is a police officer. This movie is tied to today's politics. It would be really weird if this topic was never addressed in the film. It's really interesting stuff.
The Blaxspoitation thing is fun. I'm going to say it. If you didn't get that Lee turned a real cop into a blaxspoitation cop, he lets you know with visual cues at one point. Patrice and Stallworth are walking on a bridge and they are actually discussing inspiration. The posters show up on screen and there's a discussion of fiction versus reality. But the whole movie feels like an updated blaxspoitation film. The soundtrack is killer. It's so good. I wish kids weren't taking a test right now or else I would be blasting it. The finale for Stallworth completely abandons reality stylistically and reminds you that Stallworth is simultaneously based on a real guy and a character in a movie. CRYPTIC SPOILERS: For a hot second, I thought this movie was going to have a happy ending. Nothing in the film made me think that they were going to pull this off with a satisfying result. However, the ending does work. It's a bummer that it didn't. I wanted to think that the world was a better place than I thought it was, but the ending really works for the film overall. We both get a satisfying resolution to the main plot, but the character still doesn't get the Hollywood ride off into the sunset. You don't leave Stallworth's story depressed, but you also know that the little moments had a silver lining. I mean, you are still going to leave this movie depressed, but it isn't because of anything in Stallworth's life.
I loved this movie. It was so good. It was my Get Out for the year and I'm so grateful that this movie was made. Challenge yourself. I'm begging you. If you aren't BLM, just try to see it from another perspective. Lee is the voice of a people begging to be heard and he vocalizes that message clearly and well. It isn't screaming at you. It is a movie that tells you how it is and how important art can be, regardless of political motivation. A few years ago, another version of Birth of a Nation was made. It didn't make the waves it was supposed to. BlacKkKlansman might actually be doing that better. Lee is a phenomenal director and his voice needs to be heard.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.