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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