The students affirming “Black Power!” in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” are marveling that they have survived the brutality of American racism and vowing to keep talking about how history influences today’s realities. In a brilliantly twinned scene, shouts of “White Power!” at a very different gathering sound like the wails of people trapped in their own violent fantasies.
Lee’s film is a bracing study of contrast at a time when America has a president who compared anti-racists to the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKK members who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia a year ago. Lee ends the film with footage from Charlottesville, including the aftermath of the attack in which a suspected neo-Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a crowd and killed counter-protester Heather Heyer.
As I write this, demonstrators are gathering in Washington, D.C. for a "Unite the Right" rally organized by the agitators who brought us Charlottesville. They spread the lie that "white civil rights” are under attack and complain about "civil rights abuse" instead of taking responsibility for the consequences of their own attitudes and actions.
In a “BlacKkKlansman” performance I hope gets more notice, Ashlie Atkinson as Connie Kendrickson is humiliated by her Klansman husband. When she strikes out in frustration and her sense that she is not valued, her attack backfires. She points the finger at a black man, falsely accusing him of rape and watching as white police officers viciously beat him.
Laura Harrier as BlacKkKlansman’s Patrice, who leads a black student association, actually is sexually assaulted _ by a white police officer. Patrice doesn’t have time to be a victim. She’s busy changing the world, a model of a strong, confident black woman.
Spike also modeled a black-white alliance in the partnership of Ron Stallworth, played by John David Washington, and Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman. Stallworth is the real-life one-time Colorado Springs police officer who wrote the book on which “BlackkKlansman” is based. Zimmerman, the more experienced cop, is initially made uncomfortable by what he has to learn about America from Stallworth, the first African-American police detective on the Colorado Springs force. Zimmerman eventually makes the choice to listen, leading to revelation. Meanwhile, the hierarchical relationships among the Klansmen lead to disaster.
“BlacKkKlansman” no doubt takes liberties with Stallworth’s experiences. But the movie’s truth is undeniable.