(Left: Ron Stallworth/John David Washington Right: Ron Stallworth)
Source – http://www.vanityfair.com
Spike Lee’s The BlacKkKlansman is an interesting “documentary like” film. It reveals the historical and present day realities of being black in America, whilst forcing its audience to acknowledge that white supremacy is alive and well. My issue is whether or not Spike Lee’s approach to talking about race is truly confrontational. The majority of the film felt uncomfortable. Its one of those things where 20 minutes in, you realise, the film is not what you expected.
The reliance on shock value is exhausting for a black audience member, who experiences the day to day struggle of being black; but more specifically being black in America.
Black people as an audience are fed up of consuming media which overwhelmingly centers our history around violence. There is a time and place for everything. It is important to learn about our history, but sometimes we just want to see stories about ordinary black people. My questions are Who is this for? and How did Ellen DeGeneres watch this film three times?
The main protagonist of the film is Ron Stallworth, the first black officer of the Colorado Springs Police Department. Played by John David Washington, he is given the task of infiltrating the KKK. In comparison to other leading black protagonists, Stallworth is quite clumsy and unlikable. His approach to investigating the KKK puts his colleague Flip Zimmerman (played by Adam Driver) at risk on several occasions.
In some ways it is refreshing to see a character who is slowly awakening to the realities of the world around them. However, we know from the real-life story of Ron Stallworth that he had a specific allegiance to the establishment. The same structures that so many black people are up against, he supported. Watching the film, I felt annoyed by his need to be accepted in a police force which even until the end of the film fails to acknowledge the needs of his community. This makes the character even more unlikable, particularly when he conflicts with organiser and student activist Patrice.
Played by Laura Harrier, Patrice is aware of the inequalities rampant in America. She plays a significant role in planning a meeting where Civil Rights Activist, Kwame Ture delivers an empowering speech to the black community. She represents the significant role that black women play in pushing society forward. In some ways I think it would have been nice to see more of her, and an acknowledgement of our contribution beyond being a “sidekick” to a love interest.
Long story short, Ron Stallworth is not the on screen hero that black people need. Yes, black people are not a monolith in how we think and feel. But, we cannot ignore the inherent contradiction present within his politics. Cis-het black men are often given the benefit of the doubt in a way that anyone outside of this experience is not.
The length of the film, the constant use of the n word and violence to convince a white audience is disappointing. The BlacKkKlansman reminds me of Orange is the New Black, in its portrayle of black pain to educate a white audience. The inevitable consequence is media which traumatises its black audience.
The film was not terrible. I really enjoyed how Spike Lee was able to teleport his audience back in time during Kwame Ture’s speech, alongside music choices and clever post-production special effects. I’m just tired of this approach.
One of the greatest things about Get Out is how Jordan Peele values his black audience. The mixture of real life experiences and humour is extremely effective in Horror, a genre that black people generally exist as “the black friend” or “comic relief”. Certain parts of the film included jokes for us by us, that would go straight over non-black people’s heads. This is where The Blackkklansman falls short.