Ron Stallworth was an undercover detective in the Colorado Springs police department in the Seventies, who by successfully infiltrating the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, unhooded a band of violent racists. It took some doing because Stallworth was black.
Spike Lee’s new film, which tells this intriguing true story and is probably best described as an angry comedy, was given a reception at the Cannes Film Festival last night that in truth was more respectful than rapturous.
Lee has never been known for the subtlety of his film-making and his righteous contempt for the racial intolerance that still scars the United States, while understandable enough, undermines his narrative.
Even though the film is set more than 40 years ago, the man conspicuously in Lee’s crosshairs is President Donald Trump. His slogans about making America great again and putting America first are echoed throughout the movie, and were greeted each time with a ripple of appreciative laughter from the Cannes audience.
Significantly, Black KkKlansman begins with a cameo by Alec Baldwin, Trump’s most famous impersonator, as a white supremacist making a propaganda film.
Stallworth (played by John David Washington, Denzel’s boy) is the first African-American cop on the Colorado Springs force. Not only must he deal with plenty of institutionalised racism from his fellow officers, but his first undercover operation is to spy on the civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins), in town to exhort black students to rise up against racial injustice.
Lee wants to have his cake and eat it, yet subverts his own film by ridiculing the KKK one minute and trying to make them seem like a dangerously volatile enemy the next.