Wednesday, August 8, 2018


"I never saw it [Blackkklansman] as a funny film. I'm not using the word 'comedy' - Spike Lee

I find Spike Lee’s comments about the tone of his recent film perplexing because the comedic timing in Blackkkansman is pretty on point. I don’t mean to give a backhanded compliment because this is a pretty good movie for the most part. ...kinda. I dunno... It is the best thing he’s done since the criminally underseen/misunderstood Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus if that means anything to you. Blackkklansman is certainly a partial comedy as far as I’m concerned. I mean, the movie literally opens with a title card that reads; "dis joint is based on some fo' real, fo' real shit, yo..."
I know Spike would hate this comparison but some of the klansmen characters in his latest film came off like the dumb, bumbling, comical klansmen in Tarantino’s Django Unchained. On one hand it is enjoyable to poke fun at the stupidity of white supremacy, but it is also a very real thing and is still a threat.

The tone of the jive talking/quick-witted trailer matches the tone of the actual film quite well which is sometimes rare. I’m sure anyone reading this knows that trailers and the feature films they’re attached to don’t always go together. But this could be problematic to some people because the real story of Blackkklansman isn't exactly fun...

I call this a partial comedy because no matter how you cut it - the subject matter of Blackkklansman is not only very serious, but there are plenty scenes that are far from funny or amusing. This story, inspired by the true events of a Black detective (Ron Stallworth) infiltrating the kkk in the 1970’s, is quite fitting given today’s climate as white supremacy seems to be making a “comeback” (I put comeback in quotations because anyone with a brain knows that basic white supremacy hasn’t gone anywhere). Our current president has the support & backing of white supremacist groups like “the alt-right” & the proud boys. Even so-called modern day self-hating black conservatives have racist & elitist views towards their own race yet they try to deny or downplay this by claiming that they’re free thinkers and don’t follow the group thinking/“pack mentality” that some Black folks get sucked in to. But for a group of people who claim to be "free thinkers", I always find it funny that today’s Black conservatives all think alike. Any Black conservative with a platform to voice their opinions all support trump, they all hate Obama & Hilary Clinton, they’re all sympathetic towards racist white people, and they’re all critical of other Black folks. That sounds like group thinking if you ask me (it would be easy and a little lazy to call modern Black conservatives "sellouts", “coons” or “uncle toms” but that would be an insult to actual sellouts, coons & the Uncle Tom character).

Current & former members of Trump’s inner circle can be directly traced to bigoted/racist actions. One could also make a very easy argument that his own policies & beliefs (even before his presidency) are clearly racist.

Now...this is the part where those modern-Day black conservative maids & butlers pull up pictures of Donald Trump posing with famous Black people over the years as if to say; “SEE? He’s not racist! He stood next to a Black person in a photo!” And if not that, they love to bring up the Black people he’s hired in recent years as if to imply someone can’t be racist for hiring Black people).

You see how easy it was for me to slip in to ranting about Donald Trump and the current state of racism in America? That right there is proof that Blackkklansman is a relevant & somewhat important movie. Plus the the idea & imagery of a Black person in klan garb (like the marketing campaign for Lee's film) has always been a taboo subject that people love to explore...
Shock Corridor / Chapelle Show

However the biggest problem with Blackkklansman is that Spike Lee treats the intelligent viewers like they don't know racism exists or that Donald Trump is terrible. Yes - in a film that is set in the 70's - Spike still manages to fire shots at present-day Donald Trump (and I'm not just talking about the closing credits). So much of this movie's message is so on the nose that you expect the actors to look directly in to the camera after delivering certain lines of socially conscious dialogue.
This is hardly a flawless movie. Far from it. Going back to the comedic tone for a moment, I found the mixture of comedy & drama to be a little disorienting at times. One minute you're laughing, and the next minute you're angry, uncomfortable & confused. But one could flip that by saying that's what makes Blackkklansman unique & original. It’s difficult to categorize the film or put it in a box. I would think some directors (especially those of Spike Lee's pedigree) would strive to make a film that can’t be easily categorized because that’s a sign of (or an attempt at) originality. But personally, I'm a little confused with what he was trying to do overall.

The tone & imagery of Blackkklansman isn’t completely original given it borrows from everything from The Spook Who Sat By The Door to the more respectable Blaxploitation films of the 1970’s...
The Spook Who Sat By The Door / Blackkklansman

Intelligent Black men putting on a vocal disguise to infiltrate an outside system in Chameleon Street & Blackkklansman

Blackkklansman star John David Washington seems to be doing an impersonation of his father (Denzel) rather than giving an original performance of his own (but he’s still young and his Denzel impression doesn’t take away from the film at all). We don’t criticize the great & underrated Danny Huston for paying homage to his late father John Huston in half of the performances he gives, do we?
Topher Grace gives a fine performance as David Duke and it’s always a pleasure to see Hal Hartley regular; Robert John Burke in literally anything (not many people can pull off a believable hard-nosed police officer prototype these days).

Blackkklansman is certainly "ok" but I hope folks are open to criticizing aspects of it and not just blindly praising it simply because it could be labeled as “woke”. It seems that a lot of predominantly Black post-Get Out/Moonlight films (Black Panther, The First Purge, Sorry To Bother You, etc) are met with universal praise when there’s plenty to pick at and critique. As a Black person I understand the importance & excitement of representation on the big screen, but we shouldn’t be so easily satisfied. For example - David Duke's involvement in this story wasn't as major as the movie makes it out to be. I mean - fuck David Duke, but the actual source material for Blackkklansman is amazing enough without needing to sensationalize things.

I’m not saying to be like Armond White and immediately hate the film before even seeing it (something he actually confessed to once on twitter), but we should definitely be open to dialogue & criticism when it comes to stories about us. But at the end of the day, Blackkklansman is something worth seeing in the theater.


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