Black cop infiltrates Klan in thoughtful, fact-based dramedy

Spike Lee delivers best work in years

(l-r) Adam Driver and John David Washington in BlacKkKlansman Courtesy of Focus Features

Back in the ’70s, Ron Stallworth became the first African American to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. The ambitious, young college grad was soon promoted to detective, and his initial undercover case involved covering a Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins) rally at Colorado College where the incendiary Black Power advocate was invited to speak.

But, his most unlikely mission involved infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Here’s how that came to pass: Using his real name, Stallworth impulsively answered a classified ad recruiting new members, not knowing what to expect.

When the organization subsequently contacted him by phone, Stallworth adopted a “White” accent and complained bitterly about his sister dating a Black man. That was all it took for him to get invited to the Klan’s next meeting and to secure a membership card signed by Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).

Instead of blowing his cover by showing up himself, Stallworth asked a Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to attend and impersonate him. Despite several close calls, the two managed to closely monitor the Klan’s movements over the next nine months.

That alternately comical and life-threatening assignment is the focus of BlacKkKlansman, a thought-provoking dramedy adapted by Spike Lee from Stallworth’s memoir of the same name. The movie made quite a splash at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, where it won the Jury’s Grand Prize.

What makes the picture work is the way in which it mocks the small-minded Klan members’ racist attitudes and behaviors. It also juxtaposed that shameful chapter of American history with current events. The closing credits show a newsreel of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville last summer, which culminated in the murder of Heather Heyer by a White supremacist who plowed his car into a group of peaceful counter-demonstrators.

BlacKkKlansman is a sobering Spike Lee Joint suggesting that the Klan might very well rise again, especially given President Donald Trump’s frustrating equivocating and refusal to take sides. Easily, Lee’s best offering in ages!

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for pervasive profanity, racial epithets, disturbing violence, sexual references and mature themes
Running time: 135 minutes
Production Studio: 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks / Monkeypaw Productions / Blumhouse Productions / QC Entertainment / Legendary Entertainment / Perfect World Pictures
Distributor: Focus Features