By Marc W. Polite
Summer 2018 has been an interesting summer for Black films with political content. In a season that is usually typified by blockbusters that don’t cater to the cerebral moviegoer, Black film this year is providing a countercurrent. Back in July, Boots Riley gave us “Sorry to Bother You” – his debut film.
Black KKKlansman is another example of this. Directed by Spike Lee, this film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black cop working in the Colorado Springs police department who leads an effort to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. It sounds nonsensical, but he does this using his “white voice” over the phone. Through the duration of the film, using a white officer to make in person contact with “the organization” the police department is able to foil a plot to kill Black activists. The Black cop and his allies even manage to get a racist cop on the force arrested by getting him on tape saying something explicitly racist. This all sets it up with the police as the heroes of the movie, and all is well in the end, right? Unfortunately, not quite.
The film which is set in the 1970s, depicts tense racial realities. The ending shows footage of the events of Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. Making the connection between the Klan of yester year and today’s “alt-right”, Black KKKlansman is a powerful political film. It is Spike’s best flick in recent years.
However, even though Black KKKlansman is cinematically done well, it’s political messaging is it’s downside. While it is the perfect anti-Trump film, it doesn’t go much further than that. The depiction of Kwame Ture via the speech he gave in the film made him sort of one dimensional… when the Black Panthers were about a lot more than what they were presented as. The depiction of the BPP fell a little flat.
This well done film sends a carefully crafted and dangerous message that police work can fight the far right.. when really mass action is the way. Think of the difference between the Charlottesville showdown of last year vs. the subdued march last week.
Catching racists on tape saying racist things will not fight anything but individual racists. No matter what “The Resistance” says, it will not deal with the underpinnings of right wing populism and xenophobia in a context of worsening economic crises.
This film is definitely anti Trump, but with those political limitations on it. Just as those who support the Russia gate narrative see Robert Mueller investigation and the FBI as a solution to Trumpism… This film pushes the idea that Black people inside the police force dedicated to ending racism can work from within the system to that end. The cops are to be relied on, not collective power, but the good cops and our “intelligence community”.
The complicated truth is that the police often work to protect right wing forces. Just like they did last week in D.C. The truth is, that the police are not some force that you can change by recruiting the right people. They are there to defend the system and those who rule it. In the context of the Spike Lee story about him receiving 200k from the police to bolster relations, it’s pretty clear of the film’s political intent.
There is a hard argument to make at a time when people are scared for legitimate reasons about the proliferation of the far right and their fascistic leanings. However, it’s necessary for people who are astute to watch for these developments, and understand that a mass movement has to emerge in contradiction to the Klan and Neo-Nazis.
This is a heavy statement to put in a film review, but given the nature of it, it’s necessary.