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  • Writer's pictureEugene

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

20th April 2019

Tonight at the Community Cinema we were treated to BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee’s Oscar Winning adaptation of the true story of the infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan. Not just that the infiltration by a black man, Ron Stallworth. He was a Police Officer in Colorado Springs, their first black officer. Not long after joining he became involved in undercover work and then intelligence. Depicted in the film he decided one day to reply to an advertisement in the local newspaper about the Klan. The story sounds fanciful, except it’s true. The film is based on Stallworth’s account of the events and includes his discussions with David Duke, who has made attempts to make the Klan part of mainstream America. He’s still here, we discover, telling us that it’s time to take America back. I’m not clear from whom. The film shows what the Klan stood for; basically white power and white supremacy, putting America first. It makes clear as well that this is really white men we’re talking about. Women ensure that they know their place as well. Actually it’s white, Christian men they’re talking to here. A white Jewish officer in the film doesn’t have a problem with the Klan until he interacts with them, their behaviour erodes his indifference. We see throughout with the appearance of David Duke and the use of phrases such as America First that the story has links with the present day. That point is made clear with the film ending with footage of the events in Charlottesville in August 2017, and the reaction to these events of Donald Trump. The struggle continues. The film as well shows us the genesis of these events from the making of The Birth of a Nation and the tattered Old Glory confederate flag in Gone With The Wind. It juxtaposes meetings of the Klan and meetings of a Black Power group at the local college. This enables us to compare and contrast. In the discussion group afterwards there was unanimity that it was a good film. Some people felt uncomfortable viewing these events. Due to the subject matter some thought that it was quite a painful watch as well. People thought the short, Born With It, was maybe a little twee. It did though explore racism successfully as well. It was the story of a black Japanese boy experiencing racism at a new school, but he discovers friendship as well. We had a good, thought provoking evening. Alain.


Perhaps I was in a minority of one (out of 57) watching this film without much enjoyment. For me it tried to do too much: was it a biographical piece or a drama. Designed to concentrate the mind of the viewer on what is currently happening, or educate us on what happened in the past. The film comes in three sections: chapter one is a retrospective covering the US civil war through to early 20th century, Chapters two through twenty are a dramatic portrayal of events in the 1970s, and chapter twenty one is a montage of very recent events. I can certainly accept that xenophobia and anti-Semitism exist, but I believe it is less prevalent now, certainly less publicly tolerated than it used to be. I write with trepidation as white man whose Jewish descent is not generally known, so of course I do not experience the hatred that others who wear, or are compelled to wear, their status on their skin experience. I have been aware of it though: some of the most shocking times of my life have been with friends (both black and Indian) as they were openly abused. If this film was designed to be a history lesson then the excitement of infiltrating the KKK should have been noted without being given the Hollywood treatment. It could have then spent more time drawing out the similarities of then and now to educate us to the ever present danger of letting the bad old days creep back. An alternative approach would have been to skip the topping and tailing chapters and call the film a drama based on true events. But for me, mixing the two diluted the effect of both. The short film, ‘Born with It’ by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, was independently recommended by two people (remarkably one black the other Jewish). I felt it a rather lightweight cover of unfounded prejudice based on a rather unrealistic situation; but it does allow us to consider the role of parents and teachers in eliminating discriminatory behaviours before they have the opportunity to develop into adult prejudices. It won two awards at the 2015 NBCUniversal Short Cuts Festival. I was very impressed by the knowledge of Andy McKee and Ben Doran-Burke who shared top marks in our Black History quiz set by Chris Ducklin and Rachel Bain. There were 17 entries with an average score of 8.8, top marks of 11, and maximum 15. Eugene.


Thoughts provoked even after 2 days since viewing Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. The film is reflexive. Throughout the film we see how media has worked to heighten racial fears; a scene from Gone With the Wind, the use of the film Birth of a Nation, a newspaper ad recruiting KKK membership, the recent footage of Charlottesville. Spike's film includes humour, apparently one of his conditions for directing the film adapted from a book. Humour is much needed in the telling of this absurd and yet true story of a black man infiltrating the KKK. Otherwise the film might be inciteful, contributing to the problem. Or perhaps, like Childish Gambino's This is America, it's all so terrible, let's have fun. Though Spike doesn't give us any answers to America's rising hate crimes, we do get to experience again the rich aesthetic of his director's eye.

Harry Belefonte, now at 90, plays the cameo role of the activist telling the story of the lynching of Jesse Washington as the students react in horror to the held photographs documenting the young man's murder. Passing down the stories to the next generation is the point of this film, as is all great film.


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