United States, 2018
Original title: "BlacKkKlansman"
Direction: Spike Lee
Screenplay: Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Spike Lee
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin.
Duration: 135 minutes
It's the 70s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve with the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely undertakes a dangerous mission: infiltrate and publicly expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective recruits a more experienced colleague, a narcotics agent named Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to collaborate with him on this undercover investigation. Together they unite to disrupt the extremist group.
"Infiltrator in the Klan" is an adaptation of the memories that Ron Stallworth wrote in 2014, under the title of "Black Klansman. A Memoir", although there are also film sources. In 1966, Ted V. Mikels made a B-movie called "The Black Klansman," about a black cop (played by white actor Richard Gilden) who infiltrates the Klan to avenge the murder of his daughter at the hands of Klansmen. of the extremist organization This B-class film paints a fairly accurate portrait of the white robes, the cross of fire, and the lynching scenes. Later films such as "Mississippi Burning" (Mississippi Burning), Alan Parker, 1988) record similar dramatic scenes, distinguishing the cruelty of southern racism from the search for justice embodied in FBI agents
Tarantino's films also touch on these same themes: in "Django Unchained" (2012) the Afro-American protagonist takes revenge on white slavers and seeks to take justice into his own hands, his only option, since for him there was no other kind justice possible. In "The Hateful Eight" (1915) Tarantino shows that the reasons that led to the American Civil War, between the slave south and the abolitionist north, persisted long after the armed struggle had ended. Those differences based on mutual hatred have never been settled to this day, resulting in extreme violence, just as the movie "The Hateful Eight" portrays, just as Spike Lee's movies do.
"Infiltrated in the Klan" opens with a scene from "Gone with the Wind" (Victor Fleming, 1939), in which Scarlett O'Hara walks among wounded Confederate soldiers, crying out to heaven for justice. The south has been defeated and, with it, its economy based on slavery. A sequence from DW Griffith's film "Birth of a Nation" (1915) is then projected onto the face of an invented character, Kennebrew Beauregard, whose last name is reminiscent of a Confederate general. Beauregard delivers, with a strong indoctrinating tone, a speech declaring the white race intellectually and morally superior to other races, using pseudo-scientific terminology to support his claims. Beauregard further complains about how the civil rights movements are screwing things up for him and his co-religionists.
In 1915, when the controversial "Birth of a Nation" was released, Woodrow Wilson, born in the southern state of Virginia, occupied the presidential chair. His tenure spanned, to be precise, from 1913 to 1921. He tolerated the racism that emanated from the film because it suited his interests and his ideology. "Birth of a Nation" reignited hatred in the white population and marked the re-emergence of the KKK.
Spike Lee, then, contrasts two opposing visions of American society through his cinematographic aesthetics. To "Birth of a Nation" and "Gone with the Wind", Lee opposes the "blaxploitation" genre, which was born and developed in the '70s. In this genre the directors (such as Gordon Parks) and the actors (such as Richard Roundtree, Ron O'Neal and Pam Grier) belonged to the African-American community. Colored actors were the film's protagonists and heroes, while in the cinema of white directors, black actors generally played supporting roles. The posters had a particular typeface that, not coincidentally, Lee repeats in the opening and closing titles of "Infiltrator…".
The lighting veered towards vivid, bright and saturated colors, the Afro look in hairstyles and striking prints in clothing dominated, all of which is reproduced in this 2018 film, in homage to the "blax" genre. There are scenes of love and camaraderie in which Ron and his girlfriend Patrice Dumas discuss different actors and titles in this genre, including "Shaft" (Gordon Parks, 1971), "Super Fly" (Gordon Parks, 1972) and "Coffy" (Jack Hill, 1973). But the allusions do not end there. Lee revives an effect widely used in the '70s, the so-called "Split Screen", which consists of dividing the screen into two or more simultaneous images.
Returning to the story that concerns us, in 1972 Ron Stallworth, just entered the police forces, is assigned a job as an infiltrated agent, but not in the Ku Klux Klan, but in a meeting of an African-American group that defends the Civil rights. There he meets the one who would be his girlfriend, Patrice, then president of the group. This first intelligence work was ordered by Police Chief Bridges on the advice of then FBI Director Edgar Hoover who, during the 60s and until his death, which happened by chance in 1972, had spent more time censoring the phone of congressmen and persecuting leaders of the black movement, than fighting common crime. In the film it is clearly stated that for Hoover the civil rights movement was the greatest threat to the security of the United States.
On the other hand, there is a telephone conversation in which the plans of David Duke (played by Topher Grace), leader of the KKK, and his claims to gain ground in the political field and even reach the White House are mentioned. Ron Stallworth replies: "Americans would never vote for someone like David Duke."
But Spike Lee belies the naive confidence of the police officer: in the final minutes, the film gains documentary language and recalls the violent supremacist protest of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as Donald Trump's statements about an alleged guilt shared by both parties. in the confrontation between the extreme right and the counter-demonstrators.
During this confrontation, white supremacist James Fields ran over a group of protesters with his car, killing activist Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others. In response to the news, Spike Lee declared in Cannes, France: "Trump had the opportunity to denounce the Ku Klux Klan and the extreme right-wing movements, but he preferred to affirm that there was 'fault on both sides' in the confrontation."
As a detail within the film, it is worth noting the similarity between David Duke, with his artificial blond toupee, proclaiming repeatedly before an audience made up exclusively of whites: "America First, America First". The same visual and the same speech of the current president of the United States.
This review of History fulfills the purpose of establishing that a racist tendency already existed in a sector of North American politics since at least 1915, which explains the survival of the Ku Klux Klan, of the neo-Nazist and supremacist movements during, at least, the last 100 years in the United States.
The KKK not only has a hate speech against Afro-Americans, but also against Jews, Latinos, Irish and a long etcetera that includes the treatment of women in a situation of submission towards men.
But just as there is hate speech, there are citizens who are committed to their fight against these xenophobic groups. As an example, the Jewish policeman who helps Ron Stallworth, Flip Zimmerman, initially agrees to participate in the operation for purely professional reasons, but as he infiltrates more and more in the klan, putting his life at risk, his commitment to the cause is increasing, and he shows it to Stallworth in one of their conversations.
Spike Lee's idea of presenting the KKK meeting and the black movement meeting in alternate montage is brilliant. Two opposing discourses, which take place on separate stages and simultaneously, serve to show the front and back of History, of the Great Story. In the first case it is a discourse that generates hatred, violence, division, in the second case it is a discourse that tends to integration, consensus, dialogue and above all, to account for the truth of the facts .
Jerome Turner (played by Harry Belafonte) is an old man who remembers and tells the true story of Jesse Washington, a black man accused of the rape and murder of a white woman, in the State of Texas, in 1916. After a summary trial Jesse Washington was sentenced to death by lynching. Jerome tells his listeners (and us, the audience) these sad facts in great detail, ratifying the degree of cruelty with which African-Americans were treated by whites.
These two parallel speeches create a growing tension that reaches its climax during the sequence of the placement and explosion of the bomb, a violent act planned and executed by Félix Kendrickson, his wife Connie and two other of his henchmen, all members of the Klan.
Words are tools that can serve different purposes, they can serve to incite good or evil, love or hate, construction or destruction. Without falling into Manichaeism, Spike Lee makes clear his opinion on which side bears the main responsibility for the evil, hatred and destruction that seem to be irremediably dividing American society.
Adriana Schmorak Leijnse
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