Spike Lee’s funny and pulsating adaptation of former Detective Ron Stallworth’s memoir is an uninhibited political satire, and richly topical too in addressing its themes of systemic racism, white supremacy and police brutality. It was a bit of a gamble given its goofy, mock-serious levity and bold mix of wildly diverse stylistic choices, as it could’ve easily become flippant or derivative or even pedantic; Lee, however, used those very pitfalls to advantage, making this both entertaining and provocative. Set in 1972 in a climate charged with hostility – with the fearless civil rights movement on one side, and callously brutal police force and the noxious KKK on the other – it chronicled a tale almost too absurd and ludicrous to be true. The smooth-talking Ron (John David Washington, in a hilarious turn straight out of a Blaxploitation film), the first African-American officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, establishes a means for infiltrating the local Klan chapter; however, being black, he enlists, for parts requiring physical presence, fellow cop (Adam Driver) who, ironically, is Jewish. Meanwhile he finds himself falling for a fiery, idealistic Black Panther activist (Laura Harrier) who passionately hates the police, and who he meets during a powerful speech by civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael aka Kwane Ture (Corey Hawkins). Lee packed the narrative with an elegiac score, striking zeitgeist, pop-culture references, deadpan comedy and stirring agitprop. And, in a memorable sequence, a riveting Harry Belafonte recounting of a gruesome lynching incident is intercut with a chillingly bigoted address by KKK’s slimy kingpin David Duke (Topher Grace), which meant that the tone and palette had to swing across two extremes while establishing the film’s bristling political position.
Director: Spike Lee
Genre: Crime Comedy/Social Satire/Biopic