Blackkklansman - Review
by Sofia Ferrara
Blackkklansman got 6 minutes of standing ovation at Cannes. I am personally a big fan of Lee’s joints, but I did not think that Cannes’ artsy, experimental, bougie film critics could appreciate so much Lee’s pop, 90’s inspired, urban film style. Their sensibilities and approaches to filmmaking are so far apart, even the decision to premiere the film at Cannes sounded odd to me. But this is not, dare I say “just”, a Spike Lee joint. It is a political manifesto and video essay of racist America.
Set in the early 70s in Colorado Springs, it is the story of a young African American police officer, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), that is able to infiltrate the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He answers to a newspaper ad from the Klan, and with the help of a colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), he manages to get a membership and become part of the organisation. It is based on true events...bada bum stch!
Lee preserves his traditional aesthetic from the tilted close-up to the dolly shots. However, he tones it down slightly to foreground the script and give it more exposure. He uses characters to voice racial experiences other than their own. Flip is a white police officer but plays Ron’s part whenever he must meet the members of the Ku Klux Klan. In order to gain their trust, he needs to deny and reject his Jew heritage, which up until that point he has never perceived as a fundamental feature of his identity. Yet the Klan does – to be part of it, he must pretend to be someone else. Lee employs a white character to express Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness and to talk about “passing” and “code switching”, intrinsic to the African American experience.
Lee, always very attentive to his female characters, does not leave them at the of the story. The two most prominent female characters are reflections of one another and in opposition. Both passionate about their political agenda, they are very different in their approaches. One of them, president of the Black Student Union of the Colorado College (Laura Harrier), is involved in marches and conferences to bring forward the cause. The other, wife of one of the klansmen (Ashlie Atkinson), is the perpetrator of a failed terrorist attack. While the first comes across as strong and true to herself, the other is a but puppet whose dangerous ignorance costs her husband his life.
While he moderates it, Lee does not completely give up his pop film style and, on the contrary, uses it to reveal the ultimate message of the film. He exposes the racist common denominator in American history, conveying through the editing a self-reflection on his own device, cinema. He touches upon Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation and the, often wrongful, representation of African Americans in cinema. In the Q&A following the show, Lee makes it clear. Refusing to see art as a political means and avoiding to pick a side, means already making a choice. When Lee concludes his film with images from the Charlottesville march and the car attack from August of last year, the subtle and ironic critiques he sends to the Trump administration during the film become a clear and loud political stance.
Ron Stallworth’s story is a device to loudly criticise and highlight the Trump administration, the rise of white supremacy and far-right movements in the United States. Blackkklansman is a film that goes beyond his genre, where the story slides to the background to leave space to America racist history. Lee is self critical towards cinema and the way it has failed the African American community. This film is his call to arms to artists, to take a stand and use the power they hold to offer a different narrative.