Monday, September 24 , 2018, 11:46 am | Overcast 66º

 
 
 
 

Cinema in Focus: ‘BlacKkKlansman’

3 Stars — Troubling

The true story of the 1978 undercover investigation of the KKK in Colorado Springs is based on the memoirs of Ron Stallworth. As the first black police officer on the force, Stallworth (John David Washington) was relegated to the records room until Police Chief Bridges (Robert John Burke) moved him to intelligence. It is from that place as a rookie detective that Stallworth decided to infiltrate the KKK. The only problem was that he was black.

Though this sounds like the beginning of a comedy, director Spike Lee had a very different vision. BlacKkKlansman is a film exploring the very nature and dehumanizing hatred of racism in both the 1970s and current-day America. There are humorous stereotypical moments, but the racism steals the laughter. Lee has directed 82 films, but this might be his most significant work and certainly a film that all should view and discuss.

In many ways, Stallworth is a naïve person to be thrown into the middle of the struggle. Born on Chicago’s South Side, his mother moved him to El Paso, where he came of age. Moving to Colorado Springs, he fulfilled his dream of being a police officer and detective. He explains in his book: “The civil rights movement for me was not something in my backyard; it was a TV show.”

We won’t spoil the intrigue of the case or the disappointments both during and after the successful investigation when authorities told him to destroy the evidence against the KKK, something he did not do. The story is filled with danger and romance as well as racist labeling and debasing profanity.

However, there are powerful moments we want to note. Two of those are the speeches of leading black activists, and one is the filming of a fictional white supremacist, Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard (Alec Baldwin). The Beauregard diatribe is a visual masterpiece of filmmaking as his white face blends into the scenes projected onto him, while his inability to say his lines undermines his racist superiority rhetoric. This is a very difficult speech to hear and is laden within it references to current beliefs and racial divisions. Some in our audience found the similarities to today humorous. We did not.

The two black activists are Kwame Ture, born as Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), and Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte). The speech that Ture gave in 1977 was the first moment of undercover work by the rookie detective Stallworth. The speech is classic encouragement that beauty is not defined by the white culture nor is freedom controlled by them. But it moves quickly to a call to action because the police are killing their young men with immunity.

The call to revolution was both Ture’s calling card and the reason he was feared and investigated by the police and the FBI. The second activist is fictional. Turner is given a moment to instruct a packed house filled with black students on the lynching of innocent young black men during the years following the Civil War but hit its peak in the early 20th century. This lesson is one all of us need to hear and about which we should grieve.

As Christians, the most difficult part of the film was the perverse form of our faith practiced by the Klan. The initiatory “baptism” rite, the claim of God-given racial superiority to whites, the combining of Jesus with an America First rhetoric. There is no denying that down through history, many demonic acts have been done in the name of religion and of Christianity. That is not the faith that Jesus taught, which is clear to all of us who know him and study his words, but such differences are not made clear in this film. That is troubling at many levels.

Discussion

» James Cone wrote a book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, to show that evil will destroy innocence when given the chance. Evil killed Jesus and the young black Americans. That Jesus calls us to love and care for every person from every nation, language and tribe is undeniable. Why do you think some have misunderstood this? Is it deliberate evil, or are we being deceived by evil. Is there some other reason?

» Black power and white power are now seen as battle cries across a great racial and cultural divide. What words do you use to bring us together? If you are white, how can can we confess oppression and find repentance from our present course? If you are a person of color, how can we find justice and change racial systems?

» The oppression of women by the Klansmen was obviously offensive. Why do you think that racism and sexism often go hand in hand?

» It is the nature of film to create a narrative and bring all words and actions into service of that story. It is also true of a culture to remove all who do not fit their understanding of what and who is included in our national identity. What story is large enough to bring us all together into its fulfillment across all nations? By what narrative are you living your life?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >