- Directed by Spike Lee
- Starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier
- Written by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz
- Rated R
- 2hr 15mins
- 10 August 2018
In 1971, Ron Stallworth is the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is set to undercover work watching a black power movement speaker, but ends up making history by conning his way into an undercover assignment with the Ku Klux Klan with the help of his white partner, Flip Zimmerman, acting as his stand-in for physical meetings.
How’s the Story?
If you hadn’t told me all along this was a real story I would have never thought something this unbelievable actually happened. It’s such a fantastic thought that a black police officer could successfully infiltrate the KKK, and yet it actually happened. The movie finds a very successful way to tell the story of Ron Stallworth’s achievement. By framing the narrative as an over the top crime drama, the story comes through without like a biopic. It kind of feels very similar to The Nice Guys, in that there’s enough comedy in the crime drama that it doesn’t feel like as solemn of a story as it is. Generally factual tellings of solemn events are done so very soberly, not with flashy cuts and big, cheesy graphics on the screen.
How’s the Acting?
This movie is very well acted. John David Washington is fantastic as Ron Stallworth. He’s so charming and has that ‘something’ that really sells you on this character being who he is. Laura Harrier is compelling as Patrice even if I would have liked to see more of her for how important her character was.
But the real scene stealer in this movie is Adam Driver as Flip. I’ve always thought Adam Driver was a great actor, no doubt, but in this movie that’s so close to over-the-top at most times, his subtlety really stands out. I mean, look at Topher Grace’s great but showy performance as David Duke compared to the ‘a facial tick tells volumes’ type of performance from Adam Driver. The scene where he is talking about how, “Being Jewish was never a ‘thing’ for me, I was just another white kid.” and they discuss how he’s been passing all this time and never ‘knew’ it… God, his performance in that scene is so powerful.
How’s the Writing/Directing?
Spike Lee is a legend and yet I honestly might would say this is his best film yet. The way that he takes Wachtel and Rabinowitz’s script and delivers so many hard punches so effectively is just masterful. And the script is so good because it’s horrifically relatable. Growing up in the South in the 90s, there are things said in this film that I have heard verbatim in my lifetime. The gut-punch of the ending alone is just unbelievable how it goes from everybody happy and laughing about something to the ‘current day’ is just so sobering and such a great ending. I won’t give away anything more about that ending for anybody who hasn’t seen it, but you won’t be prepared. Not for a second.
How’s the Cinematography?
I love how this film is shot. The way that no scene is really standard, that it’s full of jump cuts and cross-edits, and that there’s a little bit of a question to the timeline in some parts, but all of it works so it doesn’t even matter. I particularly love the use of jump cuts and repetition to really hammer something home. The parallels between the script and the screen in some places are just so, so good. This is just a damn good looking film.
Is It Worth Watching?
I rarely say that something is essential viewing, but I’m saying it now: You NEED to see this movie. You don’t want to, you NEED to.
As I mentioned earlier, I have lived in rural Georgia my entire life. There are things from this movie I have heard verbatim in my lifetime, and on here they were said by members of the KKK. It feels so disconnected now because so much has changed in the last 15 years, but at the same time, it really hasn’t. It’s changed in my experience. I only recently learned how little has really changed outside of that.
I grew up racist. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t know it was wrong, and I didn’t have any idea I was racist. I had grandparents who grew up poor and white between the Great Depression and World War 2, I had parents who had only ever lived a white existence really, and I lived in a place where it was the year 2003 before the high school of a county 20 minutes away from my house finally stopped having segregated proms. When I was in high school, there was still the white homecoming court and the black homecoming court and I really think the only reason they ended that is because one year the homecoming queen was Mexican and they didn’t know what to do with that. You did NOT date black people if you were white and you did NOT date white people if you were black. My black friend had a white boyfriend in 9th grade and it was like the world had gone mad to most people, and I honestly was one of them.
Because nobody thought anything of it. Nobody thought these things were racist. It sounds ridiculous, but it was true. I remember my dad in the same breath saying, “I don’t have any ill feelings towards black people, but I’d rather you bring home a girl than a black boy.” And it was the same thing all adults said, so I had no idea that there was another option.
In my life, things changed the say way I went from being homophobic to being ‘huh, why did I ever think that?’ which is exposure. I was already more ‘wait, this is racist?’ when I started having more black friends than white ones (no, I’m not leading to the ‘I have a black friend, I can’t be racist!’ thing). I never thought, “he’s hot for a black guy” was a bad thing until my friends were like “Uh, no.” My parents, just like they magically realized homophobia was bad when my best friend came out, stopped saying and thinking racist stuff when all my black friends came for a sleepover and they actually had to interact with black people on a non-professional level. After that time, I went to college where it wasn’t unusual to be one of like 3 white people in the 30 person class because that’s just how it was. I spent 7 years in college and around my parents and friends, so I almost forgot what it was like to live in the rural south.
Then in the past year and a half, back in the ‘real world’, I still hear stuff that was said in this movie. “I don’t hate black people, they’re just not like us.” “There’s a difference between black people and N******, a good black isn’t a N*****.” “Whites are the most oppressed people in this country.” “It was simpler when people stuck with their own kind.” This is all stuff I’ve heard adult humans in society say in just the past year and a half I’ve been out of college and in the ‘real world’. I’ve heard multiple people say Black Panther was ‘racist against white people’ some fucking way, don’t ask me. I’ve heard, “I don’t think we should go there, it must in a bad neighborhood because mostly black people eat there.”
A year ago, in 2017, someone put KKK flyers in people’s mailboxes and the email on the flyer was traced back to an address within 5 miles of where I sit at this moment.
So when I say this movie is ESSENTIAL viewing, I mean that there are still people living in the part of their life like my parents before they talked to black people who weren’t at work. There are still people living me as a child and literally not even knowing that their racism is racism. There are people that could actually learn and change by seeing stuff they have said and done from the point of view of ‘this is villainous’. This is a movie that can and should be seen because it is real life to this day.
Go see this movie.
My Rating: 9/10