Movie Review: BlackKklansman

I saw this movie a little over a week ago, and have been trying to work through how to write a review of it. It is the type of movie that is funny, but speaks to something much broader; as such, I want to make sure the comedic elements do not overshadow the intention of the movie, but also want to commend the way the movie inserts comedy in such a way that goes against modern comedic sensibilities.

The other issue in my mind when writing this review is that of language. This movie deals most directly with racism and antisemitism, and does not shy away from the language that would be used 50 years ago in a town that leaned toward bigoted behavior. Naturally I am no person to be employing the terms used in the movie, despite their usage being vital to the message and impact of the movie. So, I will be rather careful when writing this, and focus mostly on the impact. You can always read a plot summary on Wikipedia.

IMPACT

This movie is important, and I don’t think that popular culture will view it in this light. It takes a difficult issue — race and bigotry — and turns it on its head by using a true story that is ultimately amusing at its core. The idea of a black cop and white (Jewish) cop teaming up 40 to 50 years ago to infiltrate the KKK is patently absurd on the surface. Yet, once you see it play out, you can understand how it occurred so successfully. The premise being accepted, I could then focus on what the movie was really saying. What it was saying is that to some degree, our society has regressed over the past 50 years. We though we had made, and were actively making, progress towards the equality of every citizen in America, yet the current political climate and the actions that have been enabled by our current President have shown us quite the opposite is true.

There are certain statements made throughout the movie that effectively break the fourth wall, and speak directly to the viewer of the movie. When our main character is scoffing at the idea of someone like David Duke being elected president, the other officers set him straight, letting him know that once the face of racism has changed to something more palatable, it can be put in front of the American people as something worth voting for. It can be overlooked if the other talking points of a candidate are sufficiently engaging.

This movie is also a plea for peaceful progress and resolution to the race issue in our country. The Black Student Union plays a large role in the movie, and by extension so does the Black Power movement, notorious in its day for their intimidating techniques. Our main character, being a black police officer, keeps emphasizing his belief that systems can be changed from the outside without resorting to more drastic measures. Even in the face of a potentially violent demonstration on both sides, he sticks to these values and shows success, even if it is localized, can occur.

The end of the movie is much more explicit. It shows video of the violent and lethal protests in Charleston from 2017, in which a car drove at high speed into a group of demonstrators multiple times. President Trump refused to condemn any particular “side” of the altercation. Subsequently we are shown video of David Duke (who played a prominent role in the movie) giving a speech, saying that the President’s remarks are affirmation of their beliefs of white supremacy.

While this movie will not necessarily change the tide of society — the echo chamber that our world is in makes any one (or thousand) of individuals able to do so — it draws parallels to an earlier time. It points out that we have not made the progress we believe we have in this country, and there is significant work to do. It is not hopeless, but it is dangerous and frustrating.

I highly recommend everybody watch this movie. It will not change people’s minds, because our society has become too combative for that. But, it tells a wonderful story about persistence and change, when we live in a world where it is difficult to keep the former and obtain the latter.

 

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