Once upon a time in the 1970s, Ron Stallworth of the Colorado Springs Police Department went undercover to infiltrate a local chapter of the Klan. That set up alone is a pretty solid start for an investigative, cop thriller, but as you likely already know given that Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” is one of the most talked about films of the last year, what made this operation truly extraordinary was the color of Stallworth’s skin.
Of course, as a black officer in the 1970s, access to the clan was not the only barrier Officer Stallworth had to deal with. In this telling of an incredible true story, we see Stallworth (John David Washington) not only navigate the Klan (with the help of Flip Zimmerman [Adam Driver] his “face man”) but the daily prejudices both on the force and in everyday life. But as we see from Ron’s swift promotion from the records room to the intelligence division, he’s quite adept at making his own way.
Before Ron even begins his phone relationship with the Klan and David Duke himself (Topher Grace), he kicks off his undercover career by observing a local rally where national civil rights leader Kwame Ture is speaking. It’s here he meets student/activist, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), and secures his spot as an investigator. But it’s a single phone call, containing language that manages to silence his entire department, that sets him on his way toward full-fledged membership in the KKK.
Be warned, this is not a comfortable movie to watch, and it shouldn’t be. Hate is an ugly thing and it’s a part of our country’s history, which is not an easy thing to watch. But we all know what happens when we don’t learn from our history (or perhaps we should). However, believe it or not, the film is actually quite funny at times (seriously), but you will probably wince while you’re laughing a few times.
What’s most uncomfortable about this movie is the number of lines and scenes that are pretty much ripped from today’s headlines. You can’t miss them, the line between history and modern day is stripped completely away by the film’s conclusion and it is absolutely chilling, infuriating, and perfectly done. You’re probably going to walk away from this movie a little angry. I just hope it’s with the knowledge that we can be better, but more than that we must be better.