BlacKKKlansman: Film Review

It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Through his determination to make a name for himself, Stallworth sets out on a dangerous mission: to infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The young detective convinces a colleague, Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver), into joining him on the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group. Check out the film trailer below: 

From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero, Ron Stallworth; who joined the Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) as a cadet on November 13, 1972. He was sworn in as an officer on June 18, 1974, his 21st birthday.

As it was portrayed in the film, Ron Stallworth’s first undercover assignment was at a Stokely Carmichael speaking at a local nightclub. The CSPD was worried that Carmichael’s rhetoric might incite violence amongst African-American youth. Stallworth attended the event as a crowd member in order to keep an eye on things. In the film, this is where he met Patrice Dumas (played by Laura Harrier), President of the Black Student Union, who later became his girlfriend [note: no Patrice Dumas exists in Ron Stallworth’s real life].

In October 1978, Ron Stallworth successfully infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs. The details of his undercover assignment are based on the real Ron Stallworth’s 2014 book BlackKlansman. He initiated contact by responding to a classified ad in the local newspaper. “I was sitting in my office reading the local newspaper and saw an ad that said Ku Klux Klan. For information, there was a P.O. Box [address].” So he sent a letter with his phone number. The KKK called him after receiving his letter, and continued to communicate with him over the phone. In the film, this moment is captured with the local newspaper ad containing a phone number, not a P.O. Box, in order to keep the story line moving quickly. The initial and subsequent communication still occurs over the phone in the film as it did in real life. An issue arises when the Klan members want to set up an in person meeting with him and ask him his name; Ron Stallworth uses his real name by accident. At this point you might be thinking, uh oh. Yeah, exactly. However, he is given the opportunity to utilize the help of a white undercover officer, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as a white Ron Stallworth for all in-person meetings with the Klan, considering that the real Ron Stallworth is black and the encounter would immediately go south.

SPOILER ALERT!! [Next Scene]

In the film, the initial meeting still doesn’t go well [at first, at least]. Zimmerman is questioned by a skeptical Klan’s member, Felix (played by Jasper Pääkkönen), about his heritage, ethnicity, religion, occupation, etc. Felix even attempts to convince other Klan’s members that they should make the new guy take a lie detector test. The rage that Felix projects is demonstrated further when he holds a gun up to the potential new member’s head, which ends up convincing the Klan chapter leader, Walter (played by Ryan Eggold), to set up the polygraph machine as a solution to calm everyone down. The real Ron Stallworth is outside the residence where the meeting is being held and listening to the conversation through a wire tap. He rushes to the side of the house and throws a brick through the kitchen window. The white wife of one of the Klan members screams out, “Nigger, there’s a Nigger in the yard,” or something to that effect and the men rush outside to find the black man. They shoot at him as he runs away. Zimmerman shoots, as well, to prove that he is one of them. No longer requiring him to take a lie detector test. Instead, he becomes a member on the spot.

Here is a scene from film where Ron Stallworth and Zimmerman are back at the CSPD after their first KKK meeting:

SPOILERS CONTINUED…

The film continues with a few more KKK interactions, ultimately leading to Ron Stallworth getting a call from David Duke (played by Topher Grace), the grand Wizard of the KKK, himself. In this phone call Mr. Duke discusses with Mr. Stallworth all the good things he has been hearing about the new member and he wants to commemorate his accomplishments by offering him the opportunity to become the new local chapter President of the KKK. Mr. Duke invites Mr. Stallworth to a KKK conference where local members meet together on a historical site, have lunch and cocktails and share their views. At this conference, Zimmerman continues to pose as white Ron Stallworth and the real Ron Stallworth poses as Mr. Duke’s body guard. In this scene, David Duke gives a speech about America First, highlighting his views on white supremacy in America. Watch it here:

THE ENDING… [final spoiler alert]

BlackKklansman ends with a scene that I will not be publishing in this post. It is a scene for the books though. It is one that almost made me cry but left me cheering with an attitude of justice served. So do you remember that overly zealous KKK member, Felix? Well while we’ve been watching Ron Stallworth, Felix has been working in a side story. He is the extremist character that we expect to see in all KKK members (real and fictional), but for some reason, these men are rather calm throughout the film. Felix, however, has been brewing a plan with his wife to destroy black people by his own means. It started with the fact that he still had questions in his mind about Ron Stallworth becoming a KKK member so quickly. If you ask me, he seemed jealous. Nonetheless, Felix looks up “Ron Stallworth” in the yellow pages and goes to his address. Of course, in doing that, he ends up at the apartment of the real Ron Stallworth. He is confused but doesn’t make a fuss. He leaves politely; yet practically in awe with misunderstanding. Felix notices that local activist, Patrice was at the apartment and shortly after begins taking interest in her, considering that she is involved in the black community, frequently protested, etc. His plan is to kill her, in hopes of causing a slow down in momentum of the black student union and the local black panther party. After stalking her for a good bit of the film, we finally see his plan unfold and it is horrendous…

The plan is for his wife to leave a package with a C-4 bomb in Patrice’s home mailbox and blow it up. But, when the wife arrives and attempts to put it in the mailbox, it doesn’t fit. Patrice shows up and parks her car on the side of the house. The wife decides to place the bomb under the car as an alternative.The real Ron Stallworth has been following Felix in a car chase after Felix exposes the white Ron Stallworth and the real Ron Stallworth at the KKK conference. Stallworth loses Felix on the way. He goes to Patrice to check on her and hopes she’ll leave town with him. When Stallworth gets there and sees the Felix’s wife. He tries to apprehend her. In the process of him doing this the police show up and the wife plays victim (sigh: just like a white woman, shake my head)… The police arrest and beat Ron Stallworth. Patrice is still inside and hears the commotion; she opens the front door to the scene in front of her. Felix pulls up in his car next to Patrice’s car ready to watch the house blow up and laugh… Instead, he is met with death. Both cars blow up and his wife becomes hysterical, crying her eyes out. Ron Stallworth’s partner, Zimmerman, finally shows up and throws his badge at the police saying, “He’s undercover you fucking idiots.” The police realize their mistake and release Ron Stallworth.

I rate this film 5 stars, hands down. I’d give it more if I could. BlackKklansman was produced by the team behind the Academy-Award® winning film, Get Out. The film grossed 89.7 million dollars at the box office and is playing as a featured film at select locations this month, in celebration of Black History Month. Since the debut of the film, it has been nominated for several awards, including but not limited to, Academy Award for Best Picture, Golden Globe Awards, Cannes Best Actor Award and Directors Guild of America Award. Check out this IMDB list of nominations and awards won.

As expected, a work of art would be directed by Spike Lee, an African-American film director, producer, writer, and actor. His production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, has produced over 35 films since 1983, including Do The Right Thing, Love & Basketball, School Daze and Best Man. Watch this video about his insights as the director of a powerful film about a black man who infiltrated one of the most extremist hate organizations in America, the Ku Klux Klan, during the 1970’s; the falling action of the Civil Rights movement:

NOTABLE MOMENTS FROM THE FILM:

  • Ron Stallworth ask Stokely Carmichael: “do you really believe the war between the white race and the black race is inevitable?” The answer: “arm yourself, brother, the revolution is coming.”
  • Ron Stallworth and Patrice meet up at the red lantern to discuss activism. She tells a story of when she got arrested and how she was mistreated, called names, and even touched.
  • Zimmerman practices shooting with KKK members in the woods. Ron Stallworth is following in their tracks from a distance. The Klan members leave and when Stallworth walks through the shooting range area, he notices that the targets are black cutouts with afros and big lips. He’s disappointed but not surprised.
  • The conversation that Ron Stallworth has with David Duke about the difference between a black man talks and a white man talks. How a white man is articulate and the black man is not.
  • The Colorado Black Student Union Meeting, a speech is given by an elderly man (played by Harry Belafonte) about his memory of hiding from white people and seeing his close friend being lynched before his eyes. [This is the real story of Jessie Washington in Waco, Texas -1915]