BlacKkKlansman: A Review (Spoilers)

There was probably a way to write a review of this movie without spoilers. I could write about Spike Lee’s craft as the director or Denzel Washington’s son (John David Washington) and his performance portraying Ron Stallworth, the black undercover detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Those are stories worth telling but not what I deemed important after seeing the film.

It’s important to note the movie is based on a real-life story and the book “Black Klansman: A Memoir.” That doesn’t mean everything happens exactly as they did in real life and there are some notable differences. None that couldn’t have happened in real life and none that take away from the credibility of the film. No one should fail to learn from the facts of the film because of the existence of the fiction to create a marketable story.

The film begins with battlefield scenes from, “Gone With the Wind” where we see Scarlett O’Hara, scouring a battlefield littered with Confederate soldiers. We then switch to Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard filming a white supremacist PSA and then to Ron Stallworth to the Colorado Springs police force where he aimed to be their first black detective. We see his interview with the Chief of Detectives and a recruitment agent, Mr. Turrentine played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. who indeed delivers his famous phrase from “The Wire.”

After being given a desk assignment where he retrieved files, he was given the assignment to infiltrate a speech by Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) to get a feel for the reaction of the local black community and potential for revolution. Kwame was invited by the local college Black Student Union whose President was Patrice Dumas, his fictional love interest played by Laura Harrier. The speech by Kwane (Corey Hawkins) was riveting and should be required watching or reading by today’s black youth.

Back at the police station, Detective Stallworth sees a newspaper advertisement for membership in the Klan and he impulsively calls, leading to him striking up a series of telephone relationships with Klan members including the Grand Wizard David Duke. In order to facilitate in-person meetings, he recruited Jewish officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and they were able to infiltrate the Colorado Klan and foil an attempted terrorist attack.

I won’t reveal more of the plot except to say the point of the film is to make you consider how similar the country is today to that time in 1978 when the film was set. Racist attitudes have changed little except that racists have been more accepted and often have no need to worry about hoods and robes. The “secret empire” needs to be secret no longer. We hear a younger David Duke saying, “America First,” which sounds exactly like the statements uttered by right-wing politicians today. The racists of 1978 spoke of blacks and Jews when they thought no one was listening in the same manner as people do proudly (but mostly anonymously) today on the Internet.

The film ended with video clips from 2017 in Charlottesville as we watched crowds of Klan members and affiliated groups like Neo-Nazi’s and skinheads, uniting to display their hatred for others less white. The final scenes are of the Neo-Nazi driver that sped into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer, with Donald Trump saying some of the Klan members were, “very fine people.”

There are jokes in the movie but you won’t walk away laughing. You will recognize that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some of the terms are changing; people act “racially” or exhibit “nationalism.” To some, the very definition of racism has changed to the point where nothing qualifies. When you see this movie, and you should. You’ll recognize racism for what it was then and is now a clear and present danger.

One final note, the Colorado Springs police department seemed more concerned about preventing cross-burning than eradicating the Klan. They eventually disbanded the intelligence team that had infiltrated the Klan, worried about what people might think rather than continue to do good. They ordered all evidence of the operation destroyed. Fortunately, the real Ron Stallworth saved his notes which turned into his book and ultimately this movie. Highly recommended.

SuperFly: A Review (Spoilers)

Blaxploitation: 1. The exploitation of Black people, especially with regard to stereotyped roles in movies. 2. An ethnic sub-genre of the exploitation film that emerged in the United States in the early 1970’s.

The original Super Fly was produced in 1972 on an estimated budget of $58,000. They got all their money’s worth as the film was one of the Top Ten grossing films of the year and Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack was nominated for two Grammy’s; Best Soundtrack and Best R & B Album. Super Fly came out on the heels of “Shaft” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” It helped open the doors for more blaxploitation flicks including “Cleopatra Jones,” “Uptown Saturday Night,” and arguably “Enter The Dragon,” starring Bruce Lee. Whatever you think of the blaxploitation era, it created black stars and provided hundreds of jobs in the film industry. Some of the actors were able to crossover and become fixtures in mainstream Hollywood. It gave us soundtracks featuring Earth, Wind and Fire, Isaac Hayes, and Mayfield, all are classics still getting airplay. These films also helped perpetuate stereotypes that live on in America. Blaxploitation had a place and a purpose, many were glad to see it go.

SuperFly (2018) is an updated remake of the original film. Set in Atlanta instead of New York. We see many of the same characters who’s fate was predetermined when we first heard their names. When Freddy was first introduced, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he was killed, based on the original film and one of the hit’s from the first movie, “Freddie’s Dead.” The movie ambitiously attempted to duplicate the success of the original soundtrack with the 2018 version produced by Future and featuring Rick Ross along with Young Thug, Scar, Little Wayne and others. Ultimately, the music worked best when they used short clips from the original Curtis Mayfield soundtrack in critical scenes.

Regarding the film itself, there was some outstanding acting by star Trevor Jackson and the always captivating Michael K. Williams. The rest of the cast did what they could with the material, stereotypical as the roles were. Director X, with most of his experience doing music videos, did well with showing us the bling but the story itself was jumpy and the pacing uneven. One example was the aforementioned Freddie, who was literally not worthy of Priest’s (Trevor Jackson) attention but when he died we were meant to believe he was a critical figure in the film, beloved by all? If they wanted to make his death important, they needed to establish the character, which never happened.

My harshest criticism is about the need for the film itself. A question I’m still asking is, “Do black filmmakers have a responsibility to advance the culture in their work?” On one level the film is entertaining… if that was the only goal it worked. It glorifies drug dealers, strippers and guns with plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence. There is not a single character you could point to and wish your son or daughter followed their lead. Even Priest abandoned his code when faced with opportunity/danger, first going around his mentor to achieve his own goals and later selling him out when it became a him or me situation. One constant theme was that there truly is no honor among thieves.

I should have been part of the target audience for this movie; someone who’s seen and liked the original. Instead I worry about the message it was sending and what the producers had in mind? Maybe I’m just a hater for wanting more from the films we make and expecting us to get a little more than simply entertainment? We never saw the harm done in the community by the cocaine around which the film centered. Even the girl that accidentally got shot got paid $50K. The drug culture isn’t no harm no foul, would showing that have been too much to ask?

The ending leaves us set up for a possible sequel. Priest achieved his goal and got out of the game, taking a lot of money with him. Events at home could easily bring him back for another sequel, “Return of Super Fly.” I’m hoping Priest just stays gone.

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