In my second year of college, I took a seminar about Spike Lee and his films. We watched his first to the latest–and at the time, his latest was Chi-Raq–and discussed the films thematically, artistically, and what could be taken away from them about the Black experience. Leaving that class, I came to understand Lee a little bit better as a filmmaker, as a Black creative man who wants to address certain realities through his medium. I’ve liked some more than others; Chi-Raq, I think, is the filmic embodiment of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
Nonetheless, the man’s a great filmmaker.
I actually hadn’t seen any trailers for BlacKkKlansman before I went to see it, but I knew the general plot. My friend and I finally went this Tuesday after work and sat in the back-right of the theater; attendance was sparse, and two white guys sat next to us. As trailer after trailer went by, I vented about my growing annoyance over white coming of age narratives.
In short, however, I really enjoyed this movie.
(Oh, spoilers by the way. Read at your own risk~)
When Lee is in his element, you can tell. The movie began with something I think is quintessential of his style: a monologue by someone about the topic the film is concerned with. Another element that’s quite Lee-esque is the use of images and other footage to hone in on his point. I feel like he uses the second more in films that particularly concern the racial tensions of America, as seen in Bamboozled.
Really quickly, John Washington, aka Ron Stallworth, did a great job with his performance. As did Laura Harrier. It’s nice to see all these new up and coming Black actors and actresses getting screen time and diverse roles. Look at us thriving.
As I write this, I think it’s going to be less of a formal review and more of a “Myliyah reacts to certain issues that were touched on in the movie.”
I suppose we can start by getting the colorism elephant out of the room and say that while Harrier did a good job at portraying Patrice, we have to talk about, well, colorism. I think it’s a dynamic we often see in the movie world: dark-skinned actors and light-skinned actresses, and it’s really interesting that Lee is not free of the trend. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this, but dark-skinned actors seem to get accepted quicker and faster than dark-skinned actresses. On a whole, Black actors and actresses still struggle to get roles and representation in the first place, but it’s interesting that dark-skinned actresses struggle the most. I think it would’ve been great to have a dark-skinned female lead, but Lee missed an opportunity with that.
I also loved the fact that the idea of “white voice” is touched upon in both this movie and Sorry to Bother You. “White voice” is essentially code-switching, with an extra side of believing that the only way to be taken as serious and professional is to “talk white,” because whiteness is automatically associated with those adjectives. I love how Lee blew that ridiculous idea to smithereens. The moral of the story, kids, is stop calling your Black friends Oreos because they can go from speaking “proper” English to using slang without missing a beat. We’re always on rhythm, don’t forget.
Getting a bit personal here, but watching this movie was much more moving than I was expecting. I didn’t ball my eyes out or anything like that, but I felt….so, so, seen. The reason as to why is because I’m a Black American and a Jewish American. Flip spoke aloud his struggle with his Jewish identity, how he was never raised in it and was passing but after taking on the mission began to wonder about his Jewish identity. While I can’t say I’ve struggled with taking it on, I definitely related to the feeling of fighting to be seen and recognized by even other Jewish peoples.
And then I was watching the ending as a Black person, a Jewish person, and a former UVA student. When the Charlottesville riots happened, the entire community was shell-shocked, and all of us were trying to mask our pain. It has been a while since I last saw any footage from the riots, but seeing it all again reminded me of just what hatred looks like. It was interesting to have clips from that day follow the Klan’s cross burning, but I don’t believe it was unintentional. Lee said what we were all feeling–nothing has really changed. Or if it did, it changed for the worse.
All of that said, I really enjoyed the film. I don’t think it’s my favorite Lee film, but it could definitely go up in the ranks. I’m still a fan of his blatant politics, his statements, and the fact that he can make members of the audience feel seen, heard, or downright uncomfortable. Lee enjoys a challenge. If you like them, too, then go watch this movie.