by Hope Madden
Welcome back, Spike Lee!
It’s not like he’s really been gone. He’s made a dozen or more TV episodes, documentaries, short films and basement-budget indies since his unfortunate 2013 compromised vision Old Boy. But BlacKkKlansman is a return to form—to the envelope-pushing enjoyment that showcases his skills as storyteller, entertainer and activist.
Earmarks of his most indelible marks on cinema—Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X—these three elements have rarely joined forces since 1992. You might get one (Get on the Bus) or two (Inside Man, Chi-Raq), but not all three.
Why now? Lee isn’t the first filmmaker to realize how painfully relevant historical tales of systemic racism are at the moment. But it wasn’t until 2014 that Ron Stallworth published the book detailing how he, a black cop in Colorado Springs in 1979, infiltrated the KKK.
You see how it all comes together?
If you don’t, you really should. Lee balances unexpected shifts between humor and drama, camaraderie and horror, entertainment and history lesson, popcorn-muncher and experimental indie with a fluidity few other directors could muster.
The story itself is beyond insane—a zany, hair-raising misadventure destined for the big screen. Stallworth (John David Washington), a rookie in Colorado Springs’s intelligence office, stumbles upon an ad in the newspaper, makes a call, and joins the Klan.
Of course, he’ll need a second officer to actually show up. Enter Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver—perfect), who sounds about as much like Stallworth as he looks, plus he’s Jewish, which could further complicate his face-to-face relationship with the hate group.
Much sit-com-esque absurdity and dramatic police procedural thrills follow, but it’s the way Lee subverts these standard formats that hits home. The insidious nature of the racism depicted in 1979 echoes in both directions—in the history that brought our country to this moment in time, and in the future Ron Stallworth undoubtedly hoped he could prevent.
Yes, there are laugh out loud moments in this film, but there are far more rallying cries.