The film BlacKkKlansman written by Spike Lee and others and also directed by Lee, is based on a memoir written by Ron Stallworth in 2014. The film is set in the early 1970s and tells the story of Stallworth who was the first black African-American detective in Colorado Springs. Amazingly Stallworth infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (‘KKK’) by posing as a white supremacist on the telephone. When face-to-face meetings were necessary his colleague at the Police Department, also amazingly, was a Jew, but nonetheless stepped in to help out posing as Stallworth. He showed up at meetings in the basement of a KKK member whose wife served cheese and crackers to those planning racially based attacks.
The portrait of the Klan members is not flattering. Their racism seems impossible. How could people have the crazy ideas they had? I kept thinking that Lee ought to have made a film about covert racism instead of the easy target of the KKK. After all there can’t be any racists like that anymore, I thought. Yet the more I thought about the film the more I realized that is not true. Many of the Klan members expressed views that seem to have come directly from Trump. They said that they just wanted American First and wanted to make it great again. By which of course they meant they white and non-Jewish.
Stallworth said the US would never elect someone “like Duke”, the leader of the Klan. We as the audience experienced a hush at this point, knowing how in 2016 they did exactly that. Such racism is alive and “well” in the U.S as it is in Canada. Canada just picks a different target–indigenous people.
I was particularly affected by the racism of the women in the film. One of the KKK members was affectionately hugging his spouse while she coos about how grateful she is that after all these years they are finally going to “kill some niggers.” She loves her husband for giving her this glorious opportunity. And then there were women watching a racist film at a Klan meeting who responded viscerally to a scene where a black man was lynched by a “brave” mob of whites. Watching it, as we cringed, she yelled, “String em up,” reminding me of how Trump’s female supporters would shout out at Trump rallies at the mention of Hillary Clinton, “Lock her up.”
The film ends with a shock. Lee included actual video footage from the 2017 Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville where various white supremacists, including David Duke the Klan leader, marched the streets of the city Virginia. The march included self-identified members of the far-right, alt-right, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and others. The white supremacist marchers chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, carried semi-automatic rifles (Virginia is an open carry state), Nazi symbols including the swastika, and of course, Confederate flags. Many wore Trump “Make America Great Again” hats.
The footage of the rampage was shocking. It showed men violently attacking counter protesters and a car mowing down pedestrians. About 40 of the counter protesters were injured and 1 was killed. One of them was paralyzed as a result of the attacks.
Not that all the counter protesters were without blemish. Some of them egged on the supremacists. These days it is sadly not uncommon for Leftists to forget that people who disagree with them also have freedom of speech.
After that the film switched to a few of Trump’s reactions to the events. Trump did not clearly criticize the white supremacists, but instead said, “There were good people on both sides.” The two sides were hardly equivalent.
It’s not surprising that after Trump’s comments Duke the KK leader responded by calling the protests “a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” After Trump’s subsequent tweets Duke thanked Trump for telling the truth and the fact that he “condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Anitfa.” Later when Trump did finally criticize the white supremacists, Duke reminded Trump to “take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” Duke knows a racist when he sees one, even if millions of Trump supporters either don’t or don’t care.
I was wrong. This is an important movie. Clearly such blatant racism is not a thing of the past. It is the “history of the present” to use an expression by Pankaj Mishra.
The film closed quietly with a simple but dramatic image: the American flag lying upside down, gradually turning from full color to black and white. As seems to be happening so much in America (and Canada too), many people don’t seem to see in colour any more. Everything is black and white. The extremes are winning. I hope I am wrong about that.