“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the strange but true story of Ron Stallworth. The true part sees the Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer join the KKK and even act as a bodyguard for Grand Wizard David Duke. The strange part is that Ron Stallworth is African American. Maybe that’s why director Spike Jones chose to open the film with the title credit, “DIS JOINT IS BASED UPON SOME FO’ REAL, FO’ REAL S***.”
When we first meet Stallworth (John David Washington) it’s the mid-1970s and he is an ambitious rookie cop who wants out of the records room and into the action. The overwhelmingly white Colorado Springs police department doesn’t quite know what to do with him until Civil Rights organizer Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) is booked to speak in town. “We don’t want this Carmichael getting into the minds of the young people of Colorado Springs,” he’s told. Sent undercover to the meeting wearing a wire, he meets local college activist Patrice (Laura Harrier). She calls the police “pigs” but awakens Ron’s dormant activism with her passion.
Back at his desk a recruitment ad for the Ku Klux Klan. On an impulse he dials the number, changes his voice and gets a meeting with a local, high-level Klansman. Now what to do? Stallworth continues wooing the Klan on the phone, spouting racist gobbledegook, while his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) plays the part in person.
“BlacKkKlansman” is set forty plus years ago and comes complete with flared pants, jive talk and other indicators of the time but feels timely and alive. This is not a period piece. It’s a slice of Stallworth’s life that bristles with Lee’s anger, social commentary and humour. Parallels to today’s news are woven throughout, sometimes subtly, sometimes with the delicacy of a slap to the face. For instance, midway through Duke says he’s working, “to get America back on track, to give America its greatness again.” It’s a barbed satire with its feet firmly rooted in the realities of American life.
The use of clips from D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” and news footage from Charlottesville compares and contracts a hundred years of filmed racist behaviour, displaying how little has changed in that time.
Terrific performances and fearless storytelling make “BlacKkKlansman” a searing document that defies the viewer not to react.