RELEASE DATE: August 10, 2018
MPAA RATING: R (for strong language, including racial epithets, and for disturbing/violent material and sexual references)
Veteran filmmaker Spike Lee earned his first Academy Award Best Director nomination with BlackKKlansman. The story, set in the early 1970s, is based on true events in the career of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth, a rookie at the time of this story, joined forces with veteran cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to go undercover and infiltrate that region’s Ku Klux Klan, also referred to by its members in the film as “the Organization.”
Described as a comedy/drama, it is challenging to find much to laugh about here, although there is humor, and irony, in the very fact that a person of color was able to earn the trust of the KKK, including that of Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), albeit through smoke and mirrors. The screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee, is based on the memoir written by Stallworth.
Washington and Driver, along with a fine supporting cast, give strong and convincing performances in this film that is uncomfortable to watch, as it should be. There has been criticism of this effort related to discrepancies about what occurred versus areas in which creative liberties were taken, but such is the case in many films that are “based” on true events.
Although the story takes place in the 1970s, it is beyond sad that racism and hate crimes continue to be common occurrences to this day, a point emphasized at the end of the film as Lee includes actual footage of the white nationalists’ march on the University of Virginia campus and street protests in Charlottesville; a montage of horrific images by which the filmmaker has added an exclamation mark to this cinematic essay.