Saturday, 18 August 2018
It's been 12 years since a Spike Lee joint released in Australian cinemas. Whether that is because of the inconsistency of Lee's output or local distributors' seeming reluctance to release 'black' films is a debate for another time.
That last cinema release, however, was the entertaining mainstream thriller Inside Man, starring Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster. Lee's latest film, BlacKkKlansman, arguably his most mainstream and entertaining since that 2006 release, stars Denzel's son, John David Washington.
He plays Ron Stallworth in this 'fo' real' true story of how a black police officer in 1970s Colorado Springs managed to successfully infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. No, not by using white face (this isn't a Wayans brothers comedy, though there's much humour to leaven the incendiary drama) but by means of a proxy: Jewish detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver).
Having established, via telephone, a rapport with the local leader of the Organisation (that's what the KKK prefer to call themselves, for PR purposes), Officer Stallworth needs Zimmerman to act as him to gain access to the group's inner sanctum. "You can do anything with the right white guy," he quips to his higher-ups, who aren't so happy that their rookie, and only black officer, sees himself as capable of more than desk duties.
Before long, Zimmerman, posing as Stallworth and wearing a wire, is attending local KKK meetings, get-togethers and target practices; gathering intel about the members and any possible criminal activities. Meanwhile, Stallworth observes from a distance while also managing to forge a long-distance friendship (again over the phone) with Klan, sorry, Organisation national director, David Duke (Topher Grace).
Originally intended as a project for Jordan Peele (a producer here) following his Oscar-winning, box office hit Get Out, BlacKkKlansman doesn't lose any of its ferocity or humour with the change of authorship (Lee co-wrote the screenplay with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott, adapted from Stallworth's own book).
Lee, now aged 61, is just as energised, angry and on point as he's ever been; his delivery may not be elegant but his intent is never in doubt. And while the allusions to America's current political climate are not subtle, they're also inevitable. Like the opening title card says, this is some fo' real, fo' real shit, whether it's early 1970s or modern-day America.
Some audiences may find BlacKkKlansman a little too in-your-face at times, and it is, but only those who have more sympathy for (white) racists than they do for black lives, on and off screen, will be truly offended.