Usama Masood Ahmad |
Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is easily the director’s best work since ‘Do The Right Thing’ way back in 1989. The movie’s significance– in the way that it delicately handled racial and structural violence– has made it a landmark over the years but many still remember that the Oscar’s notoriously snubbed the movie in the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Perhaps this was one of the reasons that when Lee would eventually get nominated in both these categories, it would be over a film that lays out its message in neon lights rather than being more nuanced about it.
The plot of the movie is quite simple: Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) the first African-American hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department impulsively calls the local Ku Klux Klan and announces he hates all non-white people and wants to join with his hope to learn more about them. When he’s given the opportunity to meet them in person, he persuades his fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to play his white counterpart and insanity soon ensues.
Despite the story’s simplicity, the movie is complex and insightful and funny in a way few movies are. And the fact that Lee decided to make a comedy out of this biographical account really makes his work all the more commendable. As a film, BlacKkKlansman has everything you would want in an Oscar film; it is shot well, with capable actors, and a consistently chuckle-inducing script. But the film’s biggest strength is also its weakness. Lee isn’t shy about how relevant this story of a black man infiltrating the KKK is in the Trump era, and that’s exactly the problem with the movie, while the Oscar-nominated pic is more than your typical “black man fights racism story”, it does deliver its message a bit too heavy-handedly.
Interestingly, like fellow Best Picture nominee ‘Vice’ both feature final scenes that tie into the present day in a way that may enrage or hurt audiences. The final scene – a raw gut-punch- could make or break the movie for you. But that’s exactly the risk Lee is taking.
In addition to its Best Picture and Best Director nominations, the movie also made the cut in the Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score departments. A surprise nominee was Adam Driver who delivered a great performance and wholly deserves his Best Supporting Actor nomination. It is a shame though, that the Academy wasn’t as taken with lead actor John David Washington (son of actor Denzel Washington) or other supporting actors Topher Grace and Laura Harrier. Topher Grace’s turn as the real-life KKK figure David Duke who gets duped by an up and coming black Detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), was particularly noteworthy.
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The movie’s reminder that hate still runs rampant throughout the society isn’t as gracefully delivered as one may have expected from Lee, and while comparing other films that came out in 2018, I was surprised to observe that superhero movie Black Panther and Y/A film The Hate U Give were far more efficient in their respective takes on this issue. But that doesn’t undercut the ingenuity of the movie overall. The timely themes and its sharp tongue in cheek approach to racism really make this movie a worthy Best Picture contender.
Usama Masood Ahmad is an entertainment writer and research analyst at Global Village Space. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.