‘BlacKkKlansman’ Review: Did Spike Lee Sell Out?

BlacKkKlansman was Spike Lee’s way of getting white people to like him again”, was my brother’s response when I told him I had just watched BlacKkKlansman. I was highly offended by his statement but I blew it off knowing he isn’t the film connoisseur, that I am.  Or, maybe that was the excuse I made for his completely ridiculous statement. Either way, I will say since the movie’s release I’ve noticed that many others in the black community share my brother’s opinion — that Spike Lee is pandering to a white audience; but with a story like this, shouldn’t he?

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I’ll give you a short synopsis. Based on the memoir by Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman is a dramedy set in the 1970s, about a black police officer, played by John David Washington. In an attempt to build his career as the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Stallworth successfully infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. With the help of Jewish police officer, Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, they expose the KKK’s potential violent plots, members who held positions in government, and their future plans for the “organization.”

The story in itself is quirky and funny, and Lee visually encapsulates the memoir perfectly.  Stylistically, the angles and the juxtaposition of shots, in addition to the transitions from scene to scene, this film had a different feel and quality than Lee’s other joints. It has a sort of Wes Anderson feel with a Spike Lee twist. Maybe that’s what made this movie seem so different; to some, like he “sold out,” but this movie wasn’t made for black audiences. This movie was an announcement, and an exclamation of what black people have been screaming for decades: That white supremacist (terrorist) groups, like the KKK, have infiltrated multiple government agencies, lobbyist groups, and positions of power to preserve the institutional racism that continuously, consistently, and historically oppressed  citizens of color. This is not a message that people of color need to hear. This is not a lesson that people of color need to learn. We know it all too well. This is a story for white people.

What helps push the message of irrational entrenched tribalism throughout the film is Topher Grace’s convincing portrayal of Grand Wizard David Duke. David Duke is one of the driving forces who helped change the public persona of the KKK. Topher Grace has a likeability factor, an unobtrusiveness that made him perfect for this part, that no matter what hateful word came out of his mouth, there was still something likable about him. That is what made David Duke, David Duke. Duke made racism seem more palatable for the masses. It becomes obvious in the film how important Duke’s new branding message for their organization is to the members through the special measures they take to safeguard the privacy of the club and it’s members. They stop calling themselves the KKK in public and discuss termination of the old tradition of cross burning among other things (no spoilers here folks). But as we all know, that ritual hasn’t gone away.

Sometimes, as an artist, they have a responsibility to educate their audience, as well as entertain. This movie is not designed to appeal to all black audiences, but to white liberal ones. We know as a community that we need white allies to help support our fight for equality. This film reflects the reality of the purposeful maintenance of the status quo, separate but inherently unequal for citizens of color. The white liberal politician sitting in the audience has the ability and resources to make a change at a higher level. If this was Spike Lee’s intention, then yes, he should cater to white audiences, but that doesn’t mean that black audiences shouldn’t see this movie. It’s a great story and it’s a joy to watch. I don’t think anyone should count it out just yet.


Written by Liz Bennett

Lion Women: The Fight for Freedom in Iran

Here is a rather short film review I wrote for the Middle East Studies Center at The Ohio State University what seems like an age ago now. I feel, given the ever escalating situation in the Middle East, and the somewhat conspicuous way the world fails to acknowledge the women from/in/of The Middle East, particularly Iran, this review is highly relevant. I think that, with the violence, constant threat of war, power shifts and revolutions, we forget to talk about everything else: The art, beauty and culture. Personal politics. Basic human rights. (which is what they claim we are fighting for, but I beg to differ)

To know me is to know that, besides my obsession with Classic Hollywood Cinema (I’ll battle you in a movie quiz any day), I absolutely love films from the Middle East. Directors such as Makhmalbaf (both father and daughter), Abu-Assad, Folman, Satrapi (who is also a wicked witty author and one of my favorite human beings of all time), Akbari, Majidi, al-Mansour (the first female Saudi filmmaker!), and Kiarostami, just to name a few, have forever changed my life with their brilliant and lyrical storytelling. Keen eye for detail. Attention to the human condition. And truth.

Photo credit: iransnews.wordpress.com

Photo credit: iransnews.wordpress.com


Lion Women: The Fight for Freedom in Iran

“I refuse any kind of inequality, and I believe we can live another way.”

This powerful quote, spoken by one of Mir-Hossein Mousavi supporters during the 2009 Presidential elections in Iran, is central to this story of the women of Iran’s fight for freedom. It is apparent that the director, Gry Winther, is passionate about their cause, the One Million Signature Campaign, which has become the strongest symbolic movement for change in Iran. She offers these brave and strong female activists a safe space where they can be open, honest, and uncensored to tell their stories.

The narratives are gritty, tragic, and heartbreaking, but at the same time, full of hope. The tone of the film is one of freedom and positive change, and includes interviews from noted journalists, lawyers, University of California Professor Reza Aslan, and influential women like Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman and first Iranian citizen to receive the Noble Peace Prize. While the layers of this film & the stories included are intricate, the viewpoint is rather narrow in that the spectator is only briefly informed of the beliefs of those that do not support the One Million Signature Campaign. This exclusion does not allow for a complete depiction of the political and religious climate in Iran, and instead, creates a division, which is exactly what this film claims to seek to avoid.

Gry Winther, Director and Producer, is an award-winning Norwegian journalist and independent documentary filmmaker. She has covered international news and current affairs for 18 years. Gry moved to the U.S. in January 2004, and has been working as a political correspondent registered with the U.S. Foreign Press Center for Norwegian television, radio, and newspapers. Her work includes conversations with Nobel
Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, as well as an interview with former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Khatami. In total, Gry has made 10 documentaries for the major networks in Norway and for international television. Her film Lion Women: The Fight for Freedom in Iran was nominated in April, 2010 for best documentary at Norway’s Volda Film festival. Gry is also on the board of the LA Press Club, and is a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy in Caliornia. She has presented several speeches on journalism for media students, and a segment on “documentaries and movies, focusing on foreign policy” with Oscar winner Lawrence Bender (Producer of An Inconvenient Truth) for the Pacific Council on International Policy. She is currently living in Los Angeles, California.
Keya Crenshaw