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Spike Lee has mastered the ability to deconstruct and rework blacksploitation cinema. Unlike, for example, Quentin Tarantino, he does not refer to the historical genre in order to duplicate it, constructing a modern, attractive copy of it, but uses his imagination, breaking harmful patterns. First of all, he shows diversity. In the classic exploitation film, black would probably come from a criminal environment and use violence. In the American director’s look at the genre, black people, like white people, play different roles, creating a lively, sometimes exaggerated, but credible society. They can be students, they can be intellectuals or like Ron Stallworth, the hero of BlacKkKlansman, they can become a law enforcement officers (in addition, Stallworth is the first black officer in Colorado Springs).

The comedy plot of Lee’s latest film seems absurd. However, it is inspired by true history, and in addition, filled to the brim with references to the contemporary political situation of the United States. A freshly-made, black police officer, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), begins to impersonate a member of the KKK with the intention of infiltrating and breaking up the Organization (as its members call it). One of his closest associates is Filip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), who – while Ron talks to the officials of the Organization remotely, leading spectators to outbursts of laughter – personally infiltrates the Organization pretending to be its member. Filip, a representative of the white society, confronts his dislike of the black ethnic minority (justified by a police, hostile environment) with the discovery of his own origin – he is a Jew. This fact makes him aware and constantly reminds him of being in the Organization.

New Horizons Association – press materials

Ron’s sidekick, portrayed well by Driver, and similarly the viewer – in the moments to catch his breath between spasm of laughter – will slowly become aware of the irrationality of extremely right-wing views, ostracizing individuals due to their origin. And this is the purpose of Lee’s simplest and full of comedy action: education through laughter. Viewers will laugh when racial tension will burst like an over-inflated balloon, when Ron, impersonating a typical representative of the American South during a conversation with the president of the Organization, will ineptly (but effectively) imitate the accent of a real American. Laughter will resound when we hear the well-remembered words of Donald Trump from the presidential campaign, spoken through the mouth of KKK head, David Duke (fantastic Topher Grace in this role).

The problem is, according to another film director and critic, Boots Riley[1], that despite assurances, the story presented by Spike Lee is not at all true. The creator allows himself a lot, distorting the vague memories of the real Ron Stallworth and creating a hurray-optimistic image, filling the hearts with the hope that you can break the gloomy picture of the violent supremacy of the white man and that racial hatred in the ranks of the police is only the actions of individual units, not systemic corruption.

Of course, a dose of optimism is very much needed and every fair voice is worth its weight in gold. We would love to believe in a world that would let us change the disgusting reality, but is BlacKkKlansman able to hit and speak to those whites who often unknowingly add a brick to the ever higher walls of hatred? Will they laugh during the screening (assuming they visit the cinema at all)? Is Lee’s film effective as a manifesto of a nation free from racial hatred? I leave these questions unanswered, hoping that the American flag, which at the end of the film loses its colors in favor of black and white, will someday regain its original, multicolored look.


[1] Thanks for the tip, Natalia.

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Mateusz Tarwacki

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