fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,


I went and saw Spike Lee's Blackkklansmen tonight. From all the reviews I was expecting something really remarkable - it has like 96% on RottenTomatoes. With Spike Lee at the helm, I wasn't expecting subtlety. In fairness, this is the first film I've seen by him, but I know his reputation of course.

What I was, was bored.

The basic plot actually had a lot of really clever potential. From the trailer you probably got the basic gist: a black cop goes undercover with the local KKK, doing phone work himself but having a fellow white (Jewish) cop attend meetings as him, since obviously he's black so can't go himself. One additional detail, though not a major spoiler: Ron Stallworth, the black cop, begins dating what I'd call a black separatist, who doesn't know he's actually undercover. So you have the potential for some really interesting dialectic: a white Jew who identifies with his Jewishness only in the most basic of terms. A black man who's thoroughly able to "pass" (at least over the phone) and another black woman with no interest in doing so. And there's some really good conflict between working "within" the system versus rejecting it.

Just to make sure the point isn't lost on the audience, Lee bookends the Ron Stallworth story with a screening of scenes from Birth of a Nation (the DW Griffith standard, not the 2016 Nate Parker film about the Harpers Ferry revolt) at the beginning, and news footage of the Charlottesville attack at the end. I'm just not sure what the point is supposed to be, actually. That racism is still a thing, and that we're still grappling with the same issues? I didn't need the movie to tell me that. That white America is hostile toward black America, and good white people need to wake up to this act? Strangely, Blackkklansmen undercuts itself here: the local KKK is stupid to the point of being offputting, and what other white characters there are are actually fairly supportive, up to a point. The local police is actively recruiting minority applicants, for instance, and Ron probably does more good in the context of the system by working with the white power structure than do the other characters actively rejecting it.

The whole thing had a distinct whiff of preaching to the already converted, and simultaneously letting King's "white moderates" off the hook because we are very much not like Them (TM), the true racists. If you want to feel good about your wokeness, this film will probably scratch that itch, but it certainly didn't compel me to do better. The characters felt flat, both because they didn't develop and even when there were natural tensions between their positions and starting-points, that wasn't really followed through on.

I did find it interesting as a writer, though, because it really didn't involve me in the story, either plot-wise or character-wise or even theme-wise. It's interesting to ask why, and why that failure kept me from really connecting with the point it was trying to make. And I think the best take-away I can offer is I just never made it into the film's target audience -- either because I wasn't the intended audience (which is fine, I guess, though I'd like my evening back), or because it was a bit muddled and didn't really have one. It was so well received, I have to think other people connected with it in a way I didn't. As a cautionary tale on the importance of connecting to your readers, it does seem worthwhile.

PS - I know I haven't been around much. I've been thinking of you all and missing you, but also fighting through a touch of depression so not having the energy to really reach out.  This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.
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