BlacKkKlansman Ron and Patrice

BlacKkKlansman may be set in the 70s, but this isnt a period piece (Picture: David Lee / Focus Features)

Its not usual for a comedy to leave an audience in stunned silence as the lights come on in the cinema.

But Spike Lee is no usual director, Jordan Peele is no usual producer, and BlacKkKlansman is no usual film.

This satirical drama takes it inspiration from real-life detective Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated his local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1972 – but dont think of this as a period piece, a laugh at old racist times gone by.

John David Washington, son of Denzel, plays Stallworth, the first black detective in Colorado Springs who, after going undercover at a rally by national civil rights leader Kwame Ture, calls the local branch of the KKK and pretends to be a white man.

Despite using his own name over the phone, Ron recruits his Jewish colleague Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to meet the members of the local Ku Klux Klan in person and pretend to be interested in joining.

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Flip/Ron then meets Walter, Felix and Ivanhoe – racists of varying extremes who are preparing for Grand Wizard David Duke to come to Colorado Springs. This results in Ron himself speaking to Duke (played by Topher Grace) over the phone – with the Grand Wizard insisting he could tell the difference if he was speaking to a black man.



Make no mistake, BlacKkKlansman is a funny film. The idiocy of the Klan members will make you giggle, Drivers Flip trying to mimic Rons voice is a delightful scene. And the references throughout to Trump resulted in full belly laughs in our screening.

Ron tells his colleague: America would never elect someone like David Duke – a knowing wink to the audience in 2018, who saw Duke endorse Donald Trump.

Topher Grace as David Duke

Topher Grace plays an unsettling David Duke (Picture: David Lee / Focus Features)

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Every performance in BlacKkKlansman is great – from Laura Harriers black student union leader Patrice, to Graces spot-on portrayal of Duke, and Ashlie Atkinsons frightening take on a seemingly sweet housewife married to an aspiring KKK chapter leader.

But its true victory, what won BlacKkKlansman the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival, is how easily it shuts up the laughter. This unbelievable caper – a black man joining the Ku Klux Klan – may be funny, but every laugh is followed by a character casually uttering horrific racial slurs, sometimes in the same sentence. A police officer who just seems like a bit of a douche goes on to intimidate and assault young black women on a traffic stop. Even one of the films heroes, Flip, seems just too natural as he spits n-words at chapter meetings, with the terrifying possibility in the air that the KKK members would kill him were they to discover he was a Jew.

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The film ends with the reminder that the behaviour portrayed in this town in 1970s America is still happening today. Its still accepted, and the KKK is still here. I will not spoil the ending, but the fact that BlacKkKlansman was released in the US on the first anniversary of the white supremacist Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where protestor Heather Heyer was killed, is a clue enough.

After laughs throughout the film, the screening I attended ended in pure silence, enough to hear a pin drop. It was no coincidence that the screening ended like this when the audience was predominantly white. For white people, this film is a reminder that if you laugh at something racist, if you acknowledge racism with a nod, or you ignore racism – you are complicit in the most extreme acts of racism. BlacKkKlansman will leave white viewers feeling uncomfortable, and maybe guilty. And thats a good thing.

BlacKkklansman is released on 24 August. Special nationwide screenings and Live Satellite Q&A with Spike Lee on 20 August – for tickets, visit here.

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