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Film / BlacKkKlansman

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BlacKkKlansman is a 2018 fact-based crime dramedy joint directed by Spike Lee, produced by Jordan Peele and Jason Blum, and starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkkönen and Paul Walter Hauser.

It tells the story of Ron Stallworth (Washington), the first black member of the Colorado Springs police department who took it upon himself to infiltrate and disrupt a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Teaming up with a Jewish officer named Flip Zimmerman (Driver), who serves as Stallworth's "face", the two of them eventually uncover a plot to attack a local gathering of black activists who Stallworth has previously been assigned to work with as an undercover officer.

Not to be confused with the low-budget 1966 film The Black Klansman.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • Mr. Turrentine, played by Isiah Whitlock, Jr., says "Sheeeeeeeeeeit" during his meeting with Ron, much like he does in The Wire, though this seems to be something of a personal Catchphrase throughout his career.
    • Alec Baldwin appears in the beginning as the fictional Dr. Kennebrew Beaureguard. Baldwin is known for his portrayal of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live. News footage of Trump appears in the end interspersed with footage of the Charlottesville rally.
  • An Aesop: The film makes a point about how White Supremacists sanitize their language to come off as rational and legitimate, which makes it easier to see them as actual people and not just caricatures.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Subverted; the Klansmen chanting "America First!" at a meeting seems like a reference to Donald Trump's slogan, but the Ku Klux Klan and other reprehensible figures did indeed use the phrase first, stretching back as far as WWII, and its presence in the film is part of the Take That! at Trump for sharing such an overt similarity to them. Incidentally, the first chair of the "America First Committee," which opposed US entry into WWII, was Charles Lindburgh, an anti-Semite.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Who is the new leader of the "Organization"'s Colorado Springs chapter? Is this man Walter, who's both dark-eyed and about Flip's height, and the firelight is distorting his appearance? Is it actually Flip, who went against department orders to continue infiltrating the KKK now that everyone who knew he was a cop is dead? Or is he another tall, dark-haired man altogether?
  • Artistic License History:
    • In the credits, they at least say that parts were fictionalized. A comparison between the truth and the added elements can be found here.
      • The film takes place in 1972 as a stylistic choice while the events portrayed took place in 1979.
      • The real Ron Stallworth never used a "white" voice over the phone and instead used his own. The perceived southern "white" accent is not very different from his.
      • Most of Ron's interactions with the KKK in real life were in fact over the phone, with Flip's numerous in-person encounters with them augmented for Rule of Drama. This creates a Plot Hole in the film of why didn't Flip just speak on the phone after the initial call to minimize chances of being caught, which is never fully explained.
      • The real David Duke did not discover that Ron Stallworth was black until 2006.
      • Patrice is seemingly created for the film, based very loosely on Stallworth mentioning that he was dating someone he didn't name.
      • The actual threat of violence that is revealed by the undercover mission never happened in real life. It was manufactured to give the movie a big climax. The main results of the undercover work were brought up much earlier in the movie, several KKK members worked at Norad and even held nuclear launch keys. They were subsequently transferred.
    • The man who relates the lynching of Jesse Washington also states that Woodrow Wilson called The Birth Of A Nation "like writing history with lightning." This is a popular but apocryphal story that was denied by Wilson's aide. It most likely originated from Thomas Dixon, Jr., who wrote the book upon which the film was based and promoted the film heavily.
    • One Klansman uses the term "ethnic cleansing", which did not enter wide usage until the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s.
  • As Long as There Is Evil: The movie ends with Ron's seeming triumph over the Colorado Springs Klan, with the death of Felix and the foiling of their bomb plot. But then the investigation is called off, and the Klan is shown burning a cross near Ron's apartment, which then cuts to real footage of white supremacists marching in 2017, suggesting that the threat posed by the Klan continues.
  • A-Team Firing: Flip grabbing Felix's gun when Ron is fleeing from the Klan meeting and firing several off-target shots to "prove" himself trustworthy. As evidenced by the later shooting range scene, Flip was perfectly capable of firing accurately.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • Invoked, in a way. Stallworth's first assignment as an undercover detective is to infiltrate a local group of black activists to report on whether or not they've become radicalized, and Stallworth takes the assignment in order to better connect with the community.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ron's operation is a success, but the chief orders him to destroy evidence of the investigation. Furthermore, it appears that Ron and Patrice are splitting up because she's not cool with him being a cop, and the last thing they see together is a cross burning near Ron's apartment. Additionally, there are real clips shown from the 2017 Charlottesville riots, along with videos of the real David Duke continuing to spread his rhetoric, driving the point home that the Klan or people like them still have power in the present day.
  • The Cameo: Alec Baldwin at the beginning of the movie as an "intellectual" who stumbles through his lines as he tries to record a white supremacist propaganda film.
  • Category Traitor: A debated point throughout the movie is whether black cops are selling out their race. The fact that Ron is busting up the Klan is a solid argument against it, but on the flipside, his first job as an undercover officer is infiltrating and spying on black activists. Patrice is horrified to find out he's with the CSPD.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Sergeant Trapp delivers one to Ron and Flip after discovering that shots were fired after Ron throws what appears to be a garden gnome at one of the windows of Felix's house to rescue Flip after the later refuses to take Felix's "jew lie detector test".
  • Contrast Montage: The intercutting of two gatherings of the Klan and the Black Power activists, with the first group chanting "White Power" and the second shouting "Black Power".
  • Country Matters: Flip drops the c-word while undercover.
  • Cue the Billiard Shot: The scene where Flip meets Walter at the Bad Guy Bar is kicked off with such a shot.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: When Felix is about to expose Flip at the dining table, he has to leave to take a phone call from his wife which saves Flip.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: As befitting Spike Lee's confrontational style, the movie draws direct parallels between the KKK of the 1970s and the new far-right of late 2010s America.
  • Engineered Public Confession: At the bar towards the end, they trick Andy to confess to his Dirty Cop behavior.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: Felix doubts that The Holocaust was real, considering it a Jewish conspiracy. Flip, who's currently trying to get in Felix's good graces, tells him that not only was the Holocaust real, it was "beautiful".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Deconstructed with Felix and Connie Kendrickson. While they genuinely love each other, they are still despicable bigots who are willing to murder people for not being heterosexual, Anglo-Saxon and protestant. Rather than serving as a redeeming quality, Felix and Connie's love for each other only serves to emphasize just how myopic they are. As a result, the audience may find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel any sympathy for Connie when Felix dies from a bomb she was going to use to kill Patrice.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Felix is wildly racist and paranoid to the point that even the other members of the Organization think he's got a few screws loose.
  • False Rape Accusation:
    • When Ron tackles Connie to find out where the bomb is, she screams and claims he was trying to rape her, when he was actually trying to arrest a suspect. Unfortunately, the other officers that arrive believe her until Flip shows up to set them straight.
    • It is heavily implied that Jesse Washington was scapegoated for the rape of the white woman, and the court and jury's expedient sentencing and execution of him lacked anything resembling a proper investigation.note 
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Ron and Flip start off as simply co-workers, with Flip being a very reluctant and cynical participant in the investigation, but eventually develop a true camaraderie and respect for one another.
  • Gainax Ending: The film proper ends on a suddenly surreal note, with Ron and Patrice answering a knock at the door with guns drawn. There is no one outside, but the pair are then shown standing completely still, sliding down a hallway on a dolly toward a window framing a distant lit cross. The film then cuts to masked klansmen, with one of them looking suspiciously like a masked Flip. And this is all before the epilogue of modern-day archive footage.
  • Hidden Wire: Used by Ron and Flip during their infiltration coups and in the end to get an Engineered Public Confession out of Andy.
  • Historical Beauty Upgrade: The leader of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan is played by the much more conventionally handsome Ryan Eggold, although he was similar in stature and build to Walter in reality.
  • Historical Domain Character: David Duke as well as Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Stallworth's memoir portrays Landers as an arrogant but incompetent officer. In the film, he's an out-and-out gleeful racist.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Felix, Ivanhoe, and Walker are killed by the C4 bomb they planned to use on Patrice. Walker was even the one who supplied them with the C4.
  • I Call It "Vera": Ivanhoe has a gun named "Betsy".
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Invoked. Felix opts to "test" Flip's Jewish-ness with a lie detector test, which ends up being unccessary when Flip takes the chance to fire several (missed) shots at Ron's fleeing car, which proves himself to the rest of the KKK.
  • The Infiltration: Ron and Flip share this role. Ron basically talks his way into the "Organization" and befriends several high-ranking members over the phone, including David Duke, while Flip meets them in person and ingratiates himself into the Klan.
  • Insistent Terminology: It's "the Organization", not "the KKK" and definitely not "the Klan".
  • In Vino Veritas: An inebriated Ivanhoe lets slip that they're planning to use "fireworks" against black people, complete with a loud "BOOM!". Walter quickly tries to dismiss it as drunken nonsense, but it's enough of a credible threat that Flip and Ron can continue their investigation.
  • It's Personal: Early on, Ron's colleagues accuse him of having a vendetta against the Klan, of being determined to stop them regardless of whether they pose a threat to public safety or not. Later, his investigation really becomes personal when the Klan starts plotting to kill his love interest Patrice.
  • It Will Never Catch On: An especially dark one: Ron scoffs when Trapp tells him that David Duke will launder white supremacist talking points for mainstream America, and that one day there will be a president spouting David Duke's rhetoric in the White House. Trapp reacts to Ron's disbelief by telling him he's being naive, and to hammer the point home the film ends with David Duke's words of support for Donald Trump.
  • The Klan: Although Felix tells "Ron" to call it "the Organization."
  • Lie Detector: Felix insists that Flip takes a lie detector test at gunpoint to ensure he wasn't Jewish. Ron's Broken-Window Warning saves Flip's ass.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Of all the cops in the city, Ron gets assigned to guard David Duke. It's handwaved that he was the only available resource.
  • Mood Whiplash: Comedic scenes of Stallworth passing as white over the phone are alternated with incredibly tense scenes of Zimmerman having to "pass" as a hateful white supremacist in person.
  • Moral Myopia: The KKK's whole philosophy is built around preserving the white race - with the occasional emphasis being on the purity of white women. The epilogue acknowledges on the death of Heather Heyer - a white woman - by a white supremacist.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: On a smaller scale. Jimmy explains to Ron that cops don't rat on Dirty Cops because they are family. So much for Ron's hope of changing the system from the inside.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: Soft-spoken and well-mannered Walter is the Nice, abrasive and volatile Felix is the Mean, and the easily-influenced and ditzy Ivanhoe is the In-Between in the Colorado Springs chapter of the "Organization"
  • "Not So Different" Remark: When Jimmy tells Ron that cops don't rat on corrupt members of the "family", Ron answers that it reminds him of another group, implied to be the Klan.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A man tackling a woman to the ground while she's screaming for help would have both the police and bystanders rushing to the woman's aid, regardless of the color of their complexion.
  • Odd Couple: "The Stallworth Brothers"—the first black Colorado Springs cop and a non-practicing Jewish man who share the undercover identity of a rising star in the KKK.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Finnish actor Jasper Pääkkönen plays the KKK member Felix Kendrickson, who actually manages to pull an impressive Southern Accent. However there are a few instances where he briefly slips into his native Finnish accent while saying certain words. The infamous "Lie Detector test" is an example. Otherwise he managed to keep the accent steady.
  • Paper Tiger: Ron considers the black activists to be such, noting that for all their talk about "revolution" and "fighting back", they don't actually plan or do anything that involves violence.
  • Pervy Patdown: Andy abuses his powers during a police check up to grope Patrice.
  • Point That Somewhere Else: Flip tells Ivanhoe to not point the gun at him.
  • Police Brutality: When Patrice and Kwame Ture get pulled over, Andy insults and beats them and sexually harasses Patrice. Also happens when Ron tackles Connie while trying to stop her from placing the bomb under Patrice's car. The cops come and tackle him, while Connie accuses him of attacking her. It takes Flip for them to believe Ron is an undercover cop.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: The cops who intervene when Ron is arresting Connie were responding to a woman's cries about a man attempting to sexually assault her; the fact that they disregarded Ron's explanation about him being an undercover cop and didn't bother looking for his badge, however, puts them squarely in this category.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Well, yes, naturally, it's the KKK. They hate gays, they hate Jews and they hate all other races but especially blacks.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Not only did this story happen in real life, it was weirder in real life: Ron Stallworth didn't put on a "white voice" to speak with David Duke over the phone, he used his own, and the Klan still fell for it.
  • Real Name as an Alias: Ron Stallworth goes undercover to infiltrate Ku Klux Klan... and uses his real name. His co-workers make fun of him for this, and it causes some minor problems when Felix shows up at his house, having looked the name up in the phone book.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sergeant Trapp fully supports Ron's operation (aside from one instance of yelling at him and Flip over guns being fired (at Ron), being worried about his and their jobs), and he seems to understand the method to David Duke's madness better than Ron does, saying that he tries recontextualize racism and hate in a more publicly friendly way, to make it more palatable to the public, in hopes of one day reaching public office, perhaps the presidency. Ron calls it unlikely, causing Trapp to call him naive. And when the operation gets shut down and covered up at the end of the movie, he's clearly as upset as everyone else on the task force about it.
    • Zigzagged a bit with Chief Bridges. He isn't an ardent champion of civil rights, but he does hire Ron Stalworth to bring diversity to the town's police department and works with Ron when he wants to be put on work that isn't the file room. He even is personally involved in a sting operation on Officer Landers, a bigot who was using his power to harass black people and grope black women. That said, he also seems to fully support shutting down Ron's investigation into the KKK at the end, with all evidence of said investigation being destroyed, as he doesn't want word about any of it to reach the public.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Several times throughout the film, some of the members of the Colorado Springs KKK chapter are shown scratching their heads with a gun or pointing the barrel directly at their head. This despite the fact they regularly practice with firearms on a range and should have some notion of proper gun safety. It goes a long way to showing these members are particularly incompetent or just unhinged, and they are always upbraided for pointing a firearm at another member.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • A black man infiltrating the KKK and becoming so friendly with the Grand Wizard that he's appointed the leader of a local chapter. If it wasn't a true story you'd never accept it.
    • When Ron flees in his car from Felix's house after having delivered a Broken-Window Warning, Flip grabs Felix's gun and shoots at Ron's car in order to demonstrate his passion for the cause and thus avoid the Lie Detector test.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Felix is correct that "Ron" is actually a Jew secretly out to infiltrate and destroy the Klan from within, but he has no actual proof of this outside of his own conspiracy theories regarding Jews infiltrating everything. Either that or Felix could tell that the fake Ron he was lying to his face and was just fishing for the truth.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Flip tells the KKK point-blank that he's Jewish when asked, but in an angry and sarcastic tone of voice.
  • Saying Too Much: A drunk Ivanhoe accidentally reveals that the Organization is planning to "use fireworks on the niggers." This comment is enough to convince Ron's superior officers that the KKK may actually pose a serious threat, so they tell Ron to continue with the investigation.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: For all the risk that Ron and Flip put themselves through they're only able to ultimately get one klansman's wife and a single Dirty Cop arrested. The chief forces them to end their investigation and destroy all the evidence they had gathered due to budget cuts. Even with Ron delivering a final Take That! against Duke, the ending of the movie still reminds us that organizations like the Klan are still very much active to the present day, and Duke himself goes on to have his political career.
  • Spit Take: One cop spits his coffee when overhearing David Duke miming a black guy on the phone.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: Used to portray several phone conversations between Ron and David Duke, with Duke responding very seriously and politely, while Ron is surrounded by co-workers who can barely contain their laughter.
  • Stealth Insult: The police captain delivers a not-very-subtle one against David Duke by selecting the only black officer in town to oversee Duke's protection while he's in Colorado Springs. He does this in spite of Ron's protest that this puts his sting operation in jeopardy.
  • Stealth Pun: When Ron asks Flip and Jimmy why nobody will rat out the blatantly Dirty Cop Landers, the two mention how being the police is like being a brotherhood and they're family. Ron then rebukes that that type of rationale reminds him of a certain other group. The scene then transitions to literally shots being fired by the Klan.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The dramatic car explosion (together with the rest of the third act) was invented for the movie.
  • Stunned Silence: The moment Ron says "I hate niggers" during his conversation with Walter, all the other cops in Intelligence stop what they're doing and turn to stare at him; the only sound is the squeaky noise Flip's chair makes as he rotates it to gawk at Ron.
  • Sub-Par Supremacist: Deconstructed: Ron/Flip first meets the local chapter of the KKK, which are pretty much this trope. Then he has the dubious honor of meeting David Duke himself, who is pretty much the opposite - charming, polite, intelligent... But still as racist as his pathetic underlings. He is well aware of the fact that people like them are hurting his "cause" and works on rebranding his organization into something seemingly more palatable. What's worse, this is Truth in Television; David Duke did indeed put a lot of work into making white supremacy more mainstream and many of his tactics are now used by the alt-right.
  • Take That!:
    • Many lines in the movie are pointed insults at Donald Trump.
    • At the KKK meeting, there are many election posters of Richard Nixon on the wall.
    • The film opens with the famous crane shot of the casualties in Gone with the Wind, which ends on the proud Confederate battle standard still flying. The film also features an extended viewing of The Birth Of A Nation with the klansmen all rejoicing at the racist content. Both films are being denigrated for their contributions to white supremacist mythologies.
  • They Look Like Everyone Else: The scariest thing about the "Organization" is that some of its members are perfectly decent and courteous people... right up to the moment they speak to someone of "inferior" race or religion.
  • Two Scenes, One Dialogue: "Ron"'s initiation into the KKK is juxtaposed with Jerome Turner's story about a mentally handicapped black kid he was friends with back in the day (circa 1916) who was accused of raping a white girl and was later "tried" and convicted by an all-white jury who deliberated for all of four minutes. As Mr. Turner describes how he hid himself and watched the crowd descend on his friend and tear him apart, an incident which he says was influenced by the infamous The Birth Of A Nation, we get glimpses of the racial and religious fanaticism displayed by the present day KKK members. All while Flip, a white Jewish-American, is basically trapped among them, pretending to be one of them.
    David Duke: Remove your hood. [Flip takes off his hood, looking mildly uncomfortable]
    Jerome Turner: And all I could do was to watch and hope they wouldn't find me.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Narrowly subverted when a chance phone call from Connie prevents Felix from blowing Flip's cover to David Duke.
  • Vertigo Effect: Not technically this effect but close enough. Near the very end, when Patrice and Ron go into the hallway and see the cross burning on the hillside, their faces stay in focus while the burning cross moves forward, creating a disorienting effect that heightens the disturbing impact of what they see.
  • Vigilante Execution: The brutal, and rather pointless as he'd already been convicted, lynching of African-American Jesse Washington by vigilantes is recounted to the student's union in one scene.
  • Where da White Women At?: Black guys going after white women comes up repeatedly as a topic of concern.
    • In the opening scene, Alec Baldwin's character monologues about "Rapists, murderers, craving the virgin pure flesh of white women."
    • Ron when talking to David Duke over the phone about his sister:
      "My sister, Pamela, she was just recently accosted by one of those black coons. Every time I think about that black baboon putting his filthy black hands on her pure-as-white-driven-snow body..."
    • Walter claims his wife has a similar story when introducing himself to Flip in-person. Whether or not he can be trusted is another matter entirely.
    • Finally, the two cops at the end who stop and beat up Stallworth, only think they're arresting a rapist - however, it's heavily implied that they do not believe his claims of being a cop and do not check his plaque because of this trope. Had he been white, they would have checked, and not believed Connie immediately and unconditionally.