Had I seen it before: Yes. I saw it while it was in Theaters
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee, based on the book written by Ron Stallworth.
Where you can stream it now: HBO
What IMDb says: Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.
Why I picked it: In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests, I was in the mood to turn to black cinema. Art is one of the ways I make sense of the world, and movies are one of my favorite ways to learn about perspectives outside my own. I remember this movie being great, and I also wanted to show it to my brother who hadn’t seen it. Plus it came with an excuse to hop on the internet and make a case for why white people need to watch this movie.
What I liked: This movie has an impeccable sense for when to make jokes, and when to let the horrors of white supremacy speak for themselves. It’s a surprisingly funny movie given its subject matter, but it also doesn’t hide behind comedy to the point of not taking the threats of the Ku Klux Klan seriously. This is in part because a lot of the jokes happen earlier in the movie before we’ve really come to terms what the Klan is capable of. In the beginning, the Klan just feels like stereotypical rednecks to point and laugh at, yet over the course of the movie these characters transform into sinister terrorists that embody pure evil. Okay, they always were, it just gets more obvious as the story goes on. That transition is perfectly executed, and somehow subtle and abrupt at the same time. The film wisely leans away from humor as we become more and more aware of the Klan’s danger.
I also enjoy Ron’s love interest Patrice. According to Bustle, this is not a real-life person so much as a composite character inspired by the many strong women involved in the Black Liberation movement at the time. However, I think this film does a great job of providing a platform to the more radical forms of activism happening at the time as well as Stallworth’s more pragmatic change-the-system-from-the-inside approach. Through Patrice, we’re able to learn why so many black people hate cops so much, and why it’s 100% reasonable for them to still have a grudge and a lack of faith in police. We’re able to see why black people won’t just up and forgive these systems as soon as they start paying lip service to integration and equality, nor should we expect that. Through Ron, we’re able to see the value in having an integrated police force and how POC can have the ambition to become a cop not because they’re a traitor to their people, but precisely because they want to help their people. Both those perspectives are important, and the film doesn’t shortchange one in favor of the other.
What I didn’t like: The casting of Topher Grace made it a little hard to buy into the evilness of David Duke because I’m so used to seeing him as Eric Forman. But that’s a barely even a problem.
Will I watch it again: Most likely. It’s a great movie, and also one I love introducing other white people to.
Who would enjoy it: Comedy fans, and ESPECIALLY people such as myself who still want comedies to be challenging and have an actual perspective. Anyone who likes period pieces should also seek it out.