BlacKkKlansman tells the real life story of an African American undercover detective of the Colorado Springs police department who, along with his colleagues, manages to infiltrate and expose the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). That’s the film’s summary as gleaned from the Internet after I watched it. I saw the movie with no idea of what lay ahead, except curiosity to know what a film with Adam Driver in the lead cast, held. The incredible story was therefore a complete discovery.
Directed by Spike Lee, the film – it won the Grand Prix at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay – is well made with a sense of underlying tension running all through. It features John David Washington in the role of Ron Stallworth, the undercover cop. Although based on the book by Stallworth, the script has plenty of departures from it; there are liberties taken. So what we end up with is a blend of fact and fiction, none of which however, takes away from the utter audacity of the main plot. This is a film about racism; it is also one that exposes the ridiculousness of presumptions and stereotyping. Plus it is a reminder that notwithstanding exposes of this sort, racism continues to tarnish human society.
My first instinct after watching BlacKkKlansman was to search for the 1988 film Mississippi Burning. It happens – you watch one film and then you develop this urge to revisit something similar you watched years ago. My memory of the Alan Parkin classic starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe was frayed at the edges; refreshing it seemed apt. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate it on any of the streaming platforms I have access to. But based on what I remember, my assessment is – that is a film with a more serious, gripping ambiance. It deals with an incident but equally highlights the issue. Spike Lee’s film is more specific to incident and has its moments of abject nervousness and statement of things as they are. But the overall delivery is accompanied by a stylized swag, which even if it is ephemeral and fleeting, tends to somehow sap the gravity of the whole. But it’s an interesting film overall; not to mention – Harry Belafonte in what should to be his first appearance in a feature film since Bobby of 2006.
This is a film worth watching; available on Netflix.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)