BlacKkKlansman isn't a story of infiltrating hate, but a harsh reminder of how easily pro-police propaganda can disguise itself in radical Black aesthetic.This essay contains spoilers for Spike Lee's “BlacKkKlansman” and mentions of racist violence, police brutality, sexual assault. By Vanessa Taylor With the tagline “infiltrate hate”, Spike Lee’s latest joint, “BlacKkKlansman”, boldly burst onto the scene this summer with a marketing campaign that focused on its basis as a true story. At its simplest, that is true. “BlacKkKlansman” is a biographical dramedy based largely on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir, Black Klansman. However, to say that the movie adaption holds completely true to either Stallworth’s memoir or the history it draws from would be a lie. Although adaptations often take liberties and make changes when bringing true stories to the big screen, “BlacKkKlansman” and the way it treats this particular story brings up questions about what kind of responsibility adaptations such as this has to its subjects as well as its audience. The film follows Ron Stallworth, the first Black officer to work for the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth is able to use his position to launch an investigation of the Ku Klux Klan, assisted by fellow officer Flip Zimmerman. As a Black man, Stallworth can only infiltrate the KKK via phone calls, so Zimmerman is the one who portrays him in any face-to-face interactions with the hate group. To understand the criticisms which cite the film as cop propaganda, it’s necessary to parse out fact from fiction. In Slate, writer Jasmine Sanders breaks it down for us. The film very briefly touches on the issue of anti-Blackness within the police force, but largely portrays the problem as belonging to one cop, Landers, who shot and killed a teenage boy prior to the film’s beginning, harasses Kwame Ture, and sexually assaults Stallworth’s love interest, Patrice.
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To educate yourself about the contemporary iterations of white supremacist groups in the United States, below is a cheat sheet of some basics about the terms “white supremacy,” “white nationalism,” and “neo-nazism.”
White supremacy is the belief that (Christian) people descended from Europe are inherently superior to the rest of the world’s people and are thus uniquely fit to rule over them. The ideology has existed at least as far back as the 15th century, though traces of it can be found in earlier texts as well.
Although European belief in the “civilizing mission” of Christianity was the ideology that underpinned the global systems of slavery and colonialism that spanned the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, white supremacy as an ideology took on a different register beginning in the late 19th century with the advent of something called scientific racism.
Scientific racism used “science” (which has now been debunked as pseudoscience) to provide “physical evidence” for the superiority of the white race. Scientific racism capitalized on the emerging findings of evolutionary theory to posit the existence of a hierarchy among different human races, with the “lower races” (Indigenous, African, and Asian people) being less evolved/developed (i.e. closer in kind to the animal kingdom and therefore less “human”), and white Europeans being the most highly evolved/developed/most “human” race. They used pseudoscientific methods like phrenology—the belief that the physical shape and size of someone’s skull had a direct correlation with their intelligence—to reinforce claims about the superiority of the white race.