Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman; Impression City’s Encore Melaka; Diversecity’s KL International Arts Festival 2018; More to wine than red or white; Portland, Maine—the new haven for urbanites.
The American West, in the late Seventies. A rookie black cop—the first to serve with the Colorado Springs Police Department—picks up his phone, dials the number for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (they’ve bought a classified ad in the paper), poses as a white supremacis—causing much mirth in the station house, which is home to a few of those already—and is invited to a meeting. In his place, for fairly obvious reasons, he sends a fellow officer, who happens to be a Jew.
Blackkklansman, Spike Lee’s hair-raising new film, dramatises the Colorado cops’ undercover infiltration of “the Organisation”, an operation so complete that they are able to form a relationship of sorts with its reptilian leader, Grand Wizard David Duke, played with cunning anti-charm by Topher Grace. Praised as a return to form for its director when it was shown at Cannes in May—it won the Grand Prix—blackkklansman is based on a memoir by Ron Stallworth, the black cop at its centre, surely the only African-american police officer to have been given a KKK membership card. Stallworth’s is one of those peculiarly American stories so implausible it can only be true. Or, to put it in Spike Lee speak, as the opening credits obligingly do: “Dis joint is based on some fo’ real, fo’ real shit.”
The resulting film—lee’s statement on the Black Lives Matter movement, the hate-filled rhetoric of Donald Trump, and the rise again of far-right extremism in America—is urgent and impassioned, righteously angry, impishly iconoclastic, riotously entertaining and maddeningly uneven. It’s like Lee’s long and unusual career in miniature, alternately punch-the-air brilliant and cover-your-eyes baffling.
So dizzying is the cinematic mash-up of Blackkklansman—so many are the tones set, the styles adopted, the moods explored—that it can be hard to keep up. Blackkklansman is an interracial buddy cop bromance; it’s a funky Blaxploitation tribute; it’s a coruscating meditation on the history and legacy of racism in American cinema, from The Birth of a Nation to Gone with the Wind to Cleopatra Jones; it’s a larky, blackis-beautiful period farce; it’s a ferocious contemporary polemic, featuring searing footage of the violence sparked by a white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, including video of the inflammatory (even for him) remarks of Donald Trump and ending with a photograph of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old white woman killed when a car ploughed into a group of anti-fascist counter-protesters.