Although critics consider the film BlacK k Klansman a comedy, this approach sometimes causes bewilderment among viewers: after all, there is much more sad than funny in the film. But if you take a closer look at the plot, it becomes obvious that Lee’s film is in many ways a classic sitcom. It is also an unusually deep story about the nature of political extremism and the problems of identity, deservedly received the Grand Prix of the 71st Cannes Film Festival.
Ron Stullworth in movies and in life
The main character of the film, charming and inventive African American Ron Stullworth is not a figment of the director’s imagination, but a real person who is still alive. Ron, a Chicago native who moved to Colorado Springs after graduating from high school, became a police officer in November 1972. Indeed, he almost single-handedly devised a plan to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan and executed it successfully. Something in the film was changed to enhance the drama (for example, at the time of “joining” the Ku Klux Klan in 1979.
Ron was by no means a rookie rogue, but an experienced cop), but telephone conversations with David Duke, and a certificate of membership in the Clan, and the termination of the investigation by order of the authorities took place in fact. Stallworth spoke about all this in his documentary book, published in 2014 and which became a source of inspiration for the scriptwriters and director. However, if Lee decided to make a biopic about an outstanding fighter against racism, it would most likely also be a good, but completely different movie. Stallworth’s story is in many ways just an excuse to talk about so many things that are relevant to this day.
What is the meaning of the opening frames and the last film?
The very first shots of “The Black Klanman” are easily recognizable: this is an episode from “Gone with the Wind” in which Scarlett runs along the platform filled with seriously wounded: the northerners broke through the southerners’ defenses, and Atlanta will fall tomorrow. At first glance, the episode reminds us that slave owners lost their war a long time ago, and racism is a monstrous archaic.
But then Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard appears on the screen with his semi-parody racist speeches full of ideological clichés, and it becomes clear: the losers in the civil war are sure that they have lost only one battle, not a war. According to critics, Beauregard is a parody of Donald Trump, but even without being tied to specific personalities, this monologue shows that the heroes of the film will face a new battle with the preachers of racial hatred.
In the finale, the viewer sees documentary footage of 2017: in Charlottesville, a neo-Nazi crashed into a procession of protesters in a car and killed a girl. It’s not hard to understand what the director wanted to say: it’s not a single fact, but the fact that racism did not remain in the 1970s, and if Stallworth and Zimmerman managed to fool David Duke, this does not mean that racism is defeated.
Two sides of the same coin
In the “Black Klanovtsy” we see not one extremist organization, but two, and both recruit their members solely on racial grounds. For obvious reasons, Lee portrayed black extremists in softer colors: after all, they were indeed victims of oppression, and their radicalism is understandable in some way. Understand – but not justify, for it is quite obvious that all extremists, regardless of skin color, pursue the same goals and work not to unite, but to divide society.
Their methods are also identical: the emotional rocking of the audience, an appeal to the “white” or “black” force, the search for the enemy, savoring past tragedies and calls for revenge. As cynical as it may sound, both extremist movements even have a cult victim: ideologists justify any radical actions in advance by her suffering and death. Among the Ku Klus Klan, this is an innocent white woman, brutally raped by African Americans, on the opposite side, an innocent African American brutally murdered by white vigilantes.
Not only are the methods similar, but also the structure of extremist movements. Their leaders – Kwame Toure and David Duke – look quite respectable, each in their own way, of course. Kwame is like an idealistic romantic, Duke is like a decent gentleman (by the way, both are real faces), but both manipulate their flock of different characters in the same way. And here we come to one of the main objectives of the film: the study of the nature of political extremism.
Opium for losers
In Lee’s film, political extremism, including racist ones, is presented as a kind of psychological compensation. This idea is most clearly seen in the example of Felix Kendrickson and his wife Connie. Kendrickson, whose name ironically (and the writer’s) means “happy,” is a classic loser who hates everyone and everything. Extremism not only gives his hatred a mainstream, but also allows him to acquire like-minded people, to become someone. And Connie directly says that thanks to Felix and his ideas, she found the meaning of life.
Other members of the Clan do not look better for the most part, but Stallworth, on the contrary, gives the impression of an extremely harmonious and whole person – and he does not like any racism. Even Zimmermann, against his background, seems to be a person who, instead of defining his ethnic identity, for the time being, prefers to avoid this topic.
Identity, enemies, and manner of speaking
Stallworth’s partner, Philip Zimmerman, a Jew wearing a Star of David jewelry, but knowing nothing about the traditions of his people, begins to think about his ethnicity after close communication with anti-Semitic clan members. Paradox? No, everything is quite logical: according to psychologists, alienation from the group is as necessary a component of the formation of identity as joining a group.
In other words, we begin to understand who we are, opposing ourselves to our enemies, separating ourselves from the “strangers”. Zimmerman, who considered himself “an ordinary white”, understands, having seen enough of other whites in white caps and robes, that it is not a matter of skin color: identity is not a biological, but a social construct.
For those who doubt it, the director has in store for Stallworth’s great phone shows. Duke, proud of his “racial flair”, never knew who was talking to him on the phone – white or black. Suddenly it turned out that there is no invariable manner of speaking and other “innate characteristics”: there are prejudices and stereotypes that erect barriers between people.
If you wish, you can imitate any behavior, speech, value system (remember Stallworth’s Ku Klus Klan monologues), enter any image: after all, we are all, by and large, made of the same dough. And it is precisely this thought that is hated by all racists of the planet, regardless of their skin color, religion and manner of pronouncing the word “brother”.