Ah, the seventies — a vibrant era of yesteryear, whose key highlights include the heinous hairdos, sleaze-core fashion, disco music, and of course, the racial tension between white and black peoples of America. However, BlacKkKlansman is far from a period piece, as director Spike Lee embellishes what is essentially a buddy-cop movie into an African-American nightmare.
This is the story of Ron Stalworth, (John David Washington) who was the first black police officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado Police Department. When Ron spots an advert in the papers about joining the Ku Klux Klan, he telephones them pretending to be a white supremacist. Ron successfully convinces them over the phone, and when it comes to meeting them in person, his colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) fills in as Ron-the-white-supremacist counterpart. It’s quickly evident that the Klan have much darker intentions than the seemingly non-violent front, and it’s up to Ron to prevent an impending disaster.
BlacKkKlansman is based on an absurd true story; of course, there are some important dramatic liberties that drive the plot forward, but the central idea of a black man becoming a member of the KKK is preposterous. As serious as the subject matter is, this central conceit is an almost humorous one; something out of a satirical comedy sketch—and the film doesn’t shy away from this at all. There are plenty of comical moments that thoughout the film that provide breathing space through, and on the whole it does work smoothly enough.
It’s hardly surprising that Jordan Peele is credited as a producer, as his fingerprints are all over BlacKkKlansman; the fine balance between humour and horror is handled robustly. However, BlacKkKlansman is surprisingly toothless when it comes to the portrayal of racism and the KKK. There’s plenty of jeopardy, but it’s explored in a safe environment and not as powerful as it ought to be. Having said that, there are hugely effective moments throughout the film. There is a heart-stopping scene involving white policemen misreading a situation that is completely tragic but relieves the tension with humour. The final montage of scenes is utterly haunting and the parallel-cutting between the Klan and the black activists is poignant. What you don’t get is a film about the KKK, but a socially conscious comedy that packs a punch.
BlacKkKlansman is as enjoyable a film you could possibly get about the Ku Klux Klan—which in this case is really enjoyable (if that’s not too politically incorrect to say). On the one hand, it juggles the weight of a racially volatile period of history and on the other, it ticks all the right boxes for the laughs. When you boil it down, its skeleton resembles a simple fish-out-of-water comedy, albeit a very well executed one. It’s not Get Out, but then again, what is?