BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

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Brian C
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#51 Post by Brian C » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:26 pm

Honestly, I don't really even see the Klansmen as portrayed as "buffoonish", much less cartoonish. I feel like Walter especially is like a lot of people I've known - he's perhaps not super bright, but friendly towards and trusting of the people he likes, except that if the conversation turns a certain way you realize that there's a lot of darkness in there. But if you didn't know he was the head the local chapter of the KKK, he'd probably seem like an all right guy. I thought the portrayal of him was very nuanced and complex.

The only moment I can think of that paints Felix as a buffoon is when he mispronounces "circumcised". Other than that, he's (justifiably) suspicious of "Stallworth" from the start, understands correctly that Walter is more talk than action, and fails in his bomb plot more due to some (from his perspective) bad breaks than any actual design flaws in his plan.

I guess Ivanhoe is portrayed as a dunce, but again, guys like him seem common enough in the world to me. Hell, I'm sure we've all even met guys like this who were actually relatively well-educated - the guys that never quite got over not being the life of the frat house. Ivanhoe probably didn't go to college, but still, the personality type is very easily recognizable to me.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#52 Post by MongooseCmr » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:27 pm

I don’t doubt the realism of their characterization, but from a dramatic standpoint it doesn’t give the core story a lot of meat to it. Personally I stopped finding the encyclopedia of racial rhetoric and slurs funny or shocking pretty early on, and too much of the the film banks on that to work. It’s the formally daring scenes and agitprop qualities that really make this special. I’m surprised the Gone With the Wind sampling has such a muted reception, and the Baldwin bit so overlooked, because that’s easily the most electricifying opening to a film I’ve ever seen in a multiplex.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#53 Post by Cde. » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:30 pm

Big Ben wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:24 pm
Having known an actual Klan member I can tell you the organization consists mostly of of many folks who feel incredibly disenfranchised by their life and who are manipulated into hatred by much more intelligent ones. There isn't any psychology at play that's any different than say, a cult. An authoritarian vessel collects the hatred of his flock and projects them onto an idea or group of people. The Klan, at it's most basic level is nothing more than that. While yes, the individual lives of it's members are three dimensional the mission of the Klan is not. It's a bunch of violent people who justify their actions through the asinine belief that being white offers them vindication for their crimes against minorities. And yes, sometimes God is added into the mix so that vindication becomes absolution as well. I haven't seen the film yet but I don't think it's disingenuous to portray the Klan as buffoonish because as whole that's exactly what they are.
Obviously the Klan are not deep thinkers, but it would have added a lot to this film to allude on some level to the kind of psychological manipulation you're talking about. Not that I think it shouldn't humiliate the Klan through mockery, but the film also seeks to warn about how the threat they posed is still very much with us today. The terror would be more forceful if Lee showed a path to joining the Klan for someone who isn't already a dumb racist mouth breathing hick.

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Brian C
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#54 Post by Brian C » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:49 pm

Cde. wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:30 pm
The terror would be more forceful if Lee showed a path to joining the Klan for someone who isn't already a dumb racist mouth breathing hick.
I don't agree with this, within either the narrative or thematic framework of the film.

I mean, the point isn't that the Klan is bad. Of course they are, and Spike Lee hardly needs to make a film to tell us that. The point is that the ideology animating the Klan has metastasized beyond the relatively narrow reaches of that organization itself into the mainstream of US politics - that Duke and his fellow travelers were successful into channeling that ideology into a political force.

Perhaps apropos.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#55 Post by Cde. » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:14 pm

MongooseCmr wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:27 pm
I don’t doubt the realism of their characterization, but from a dramatic standpoint it doesn’t give the core story a lot of meat to it. Personally I stopped finding the encyclopedia of racial rhetoric and slurs funny or shocking pretty early on, and too much of the the film banks on that to work. It’s the formally daring scenes and agitprop qualities that really make this special. I’m surprised the Gone With the Wind sampling has such a muted reception, and the Baldwin bit so overlooked, because that’s easily the most electricifying opening to a film I’ve ever seen in a multiplex.
I would have preferred a Spike Lee video essay on the links between historic and contemporary racist movements and their echoes in cinema history, because I found the film much more effective and compelling on this level than as a comedy/drama.
Brian C wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:49 pm
I don't agree with this, within either the narrative or thematic framework of the film.

I mean, the point isn't that the Klan is bad. Of course they are, and Spike Lee hardly needs to make a film to tell us that. The point is that the ideology animating the Klan has metastasized beyond the relatively narrow reaches of that organization itself into the mainstream of US politics - that Duke and his fellow travelers were successful into channeling that ideology into a political force.

Perhaps apropos.
I dont think the film is successful at illuminating how that happened, because it never gets at what might be so appealing about the Klan. We're laughing at them being foiled in the 70s and then boom, flash forward to Trump defending them. Yes, it's shocking and scary that it happened, but a better film would have gone deeper into how and why.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#56 Post by Brian C » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:25 pm

Cde. wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:14 pm
I dont think the film is successful at illuminating how that happened, because it never gets at what might be so appealing about the Klan.
This just seems entirely unnecessary to me. Surely, given this nation's history, it can be taken as a given that some white people really hate black people and will be drawn to an organization dedicated to hating black people. Do we really need Spike Lee of all people to stroke his chin thoughtfully as he puzzles out this mysterious appeal?

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#57 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:33 pm

I agree with Brian. Nick kind of missed the mark, and thinking it about it now (especially through my own experience with flat out bigots who I know very well), I think the film does suggest (intentionally or not) how racism could have proliferated in the mainstream. Rather than isolating things within an easily digestible target like the KKK, it’s more interesting and compelling to ask how such hateful buffoonery is allowed to spread by those who should know better. You have a police force very wary about the rise of black power, and we see how gun rights was once strongly associated with the far left instead of the right (and you can guess why that has flipped). Guys like Nixon, Reagan and Trump were helped to power by a lot of people who were scared and/or angry about radical changes in the culture, and that’s what we’re seeing beginning to emerge.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#58 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:50 pm

One more thing that’s come to mind - during one of the locker scenes, they drop some names of public figures, including one that really stood out. It’s not just a throwaway gag - everything about that guy’s life and what he went on to do wound up embodying the racial tensions that have fractured the country for the past 50 years. It’s an incredibly loaded reference deployed for a lot of compelling reasons.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#59 Post by mfunk9786 » Tue Aug 14, 2018 2:45 am

I'm frankly glad the Klan is portrayed buffoonishly to the extent that they are here. There's been far too much "these guys are Nazi masterminds!" talk around the Millers and Bannons and even Trumps of the world lately, and I think this film serves to highlight the essential stupidity one needs to have somewhere in their makeup to entertain that sort of worldview. It isn't just ruthless opportunism, there are easier ways to make a buck or gain political capital. It is stupidity. This film struck the right balance, and contrasted them with people (black and white) who were not all in lockstep politically but were indeed all using their minds on one level or another. Even the police chief, who quotes perhaps the dumbest thing J. Edgar Hoover ever said, is at least using his brain to guide him through his misguided way of seeing the world.

Heard a line on a podcast this evening that working class conservatism is "a consolation prize for a shitty life, at least you get to make other people feel bad too," and that is exactly the sort of thing that everything from the KKK to the world's most huggable Republican (whoever that is this week) feeds off of in order to attract enough people toward a "me me me" way of seeing the world around them.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#60 Post by All the Best People » Wed Aug 15, 2018 4:02 am

Slate's comparison of the memoir to the film confirms that
SpoilerShow
Birth of a Nation was in fact screened by David Duke at Ron's "initiation" (though it doesn't specify in the article whether it was the entire film or a consolidation.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#61 Post by aox » Wed Aug 15, 2018 2:24 pm

hearthesilence wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:50 pm
One more thing that’s come to mind - during one of the locker scenes, they drop some names of public figures, including one that really stood out. It’s not just a throwaway gag - everything about that guy’s life and what he went on to do wound up embodying the racial tensions that have fractured the country for the past 50 years. It’s an incredibly loaded reference deployed for a lot of compelling reasons.
SpoilerShow
The George Wallace reference? That line hit me like a ton of bricks when I watched this.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#62 Post by Never Cursed » Wed Aug 15, 2018 2:26 pm

SpoilerShow
No, they have a short conversation about OJ Simpson

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#63 Post by hearthesilence » Wed Aug 15, 2018 2:55 pm

Mungo wrote:
Wed Aug 15, 2018 2:26 pm
SpoilerShow
No, they have a short conversation about OJ Simpson
SpoilerShow
Yup. It probably helps to watch OJ: Made in America to really get the enormity of that reference.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#64 Post by Kirkinson » Wed Aug 15, 2018 3:18 pm

All the Best People wrote:
Wed Aug 15, 2018 4:02 am
Slate's comparison of the memoir to the film confirms that
SpoilerShow
Birth of a Nation was in fact screened by David Duke at Ron's "initiation" (though it doesn't specify in the article whether it was the entire film or a consolidation.
I'm not sure this really requires a spoiler tag since it's already been mentioned out in the open several times in this thread, but I'll follow your lead. I read Stallworth's book (actually, listened to the audiobook) several months ago, and indeed,
SpoilerShow
he describes *two* screenings of Birth of a Nation organized by Klan members in close succession. There's the screening at the initiation, and one that took place a few weeks earlier at one of the local members' homes when they were meeting with members of another white supremacist group (who called themselves the Posse Comitatus) to talk about organizing together. Stallworth doesn't really get into whether the film was show in full, but does mention that there was an intermission in the first screening and that members of the other group had to leave before the second half, which suggests a long program.
I think this film is very, very good, and I hope it finds a large audience, but after turning it over in my mind for several days I think I have more mixed feelings about it. The ending montage was so overwhelmingly powerful for me that it sort of superseded the rest of the film in my mind for a while. I like its messiness, I like its somewhat off-kilter juggling of tones, but it also seems a little too restrained until the very end. Granted, I know from reading the book that this has something to do with the true story, which like much of real life doesn't really build to a dramatically satisfying climax. But the film's attempts to add more dramatic tension to the story are a mixed bag for me. It took me a while to accept the
SpoilerShow
bomb plot
just because it's such a radical addition to the story. But ultimately I thought it was good to establish the KKK as an actual, immediate threat, as the real life Klan members Stallworth interacted with could never really get their act together (if anything, Lee's film makes them seem significantly more competent, despite their buffoonery!). That said, the simple cross-cutting of the Harry Belafonte scene with the initiation & screening was by far the tensest and most powerful moment of the story for me, so I still don't think this extra subplot necessarily worked as well as it could have.

That Belafonte scene really is classic Spike Lee at his best, though! And it also works as a great substitute for one of the best moments in Stallworth's memoir, in which, after recounting the story of the Polaroid (which happened pretty much exactly as it's shown in the film) he digresses into his childhood memory of the day MLK, Jr. was killed.

More problematic for me was
SpoilerShow
the two Klan members figuring out what was going on with Ron & Flip, which seemed like an especially unnecessary addition on top of the bombing plot, especially since nothing ever really comes of it. There was one person present during the actual event who had interacted with the real Ron Stallworth before, but IIRC Stallworth recounts no indication that this person made the connection at the time. It almost seemed as if Lee and/or his writers thought no one would believe none of the Klan members ever caught on. Nicolas Turturro also seemed ridiculously miscast.
I enjoyed the addition of Patrice, and from a political standpoint I thought the film found a very effective compromise between Stallworth's point of view and what I imagine Lee's to be (i.e., something closer to Patrice). Stallworth does talk about feeling conflicted about his career in the book, but he doesn't lean into that conflict the way Lee's film does, and it's clear throughout that he has no doubt about the value of what he spent his life doing. Even the racism he himself experienced in the force barely rates a mention as far as I recall. Adding Patrice to the story and letting them hash out some of these issues on screen seemed both respectful of Stallworth's views and critical of the part he (and certainly the rest of the "good" cops) play in the system. I also enjoyed their on-the-nose discussions of blaxploitation films and how that interacted with the rest of the film — it's one of the reasons I didn't really mind the purely fictional addition of
SpoilerShow
the sting operation exposing the racist cop
because Patrice bluntly says the whole notion of a heroic black cop changing things from the inside is a fantasy, and it plays as such. In that way the film actually sort of functions not just as an adaptation of Stallworth's memoir, but also as a (respectful) criticism of it. I haven't found an interview where this was asked, but I'd love to know whether Stallworth would have written his book differently now than he did in 2014, given all that's happened since then.

I think I'm going to have to see this again, as I spent too much of my first viewing waiting to see how the film would diverge from the memoir. In a second viewing it might be easier for me to get into what the film is trying to do on its own terms.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#65 Post by Murdoch » Wed Aug 15, 2018 3:53 pm

Brian C wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:25 pm
Cde. wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:14 pm
I dont think the film is successful at illuminating how that happened, because it never gets at what might be so appealing about the Klan.
This just seems entirely unnecessary to me. Surely, given this nation's history, it can be taken as a given that some white people really hate black people and will be drawn to an organization dedicated to hating black people. Do we really need Spike Lee of all people to stroke his chin thoughtfully as he puzzles out this mysterious appeal?
To add to this, Lee doesn't seem to be trying to chart how this mentality has risen to mainstream US politics again, but instead highlight how it's always been a part of US history. This is a film about the relentlessness of white supremacy in the US, how it permeates the country's past in both its popular culture and politics. That the final footage shown is of the current US political state I think is Lee simply putting forth a call for action and ending on how these times aren't behind us.

On a related point, showing the real David Duke speak about Trump to the press was the most powerful moment of the film for me and very unnerving.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#66 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 12:29 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:41 am
Image
He's now tweeted "I'll post my comment about Blackkklansman on Monday."

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#67 Post by domino harvey » Thu Aug 16, 2018 12:37 pm

Who tweets coming attractions for their own tweets?

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#68 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Aug 16, 2018 1:08 pm

Well, Trump.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#69 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 1:17 pm

Guessing it'll be a published essay.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#70 Post by willoneill » Fri Aug 17, 2018 8:19 pm

Boots Riley’s full comments


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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#72 Post by mfunk9786 » Fri Aug 17, 2018 10:35 pm

I continue to think it's an understandable prerogative of Riley to feel this way about the film, and for the film to be great at the same time. I'm glad he shared that lengthier rationale for his viewpoint on it.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#73 Post by Brian C » Sat Aug 18, 2018 1:35 pm

Riley's comments are perfectly reasonable as far as I'm concerned. Compare his critique to the empty nonsense from Armond White, for example.

Certainly I think it's true that the film twists historical events in order to make its protagonist look better. This is true of roughly every movie ever, so it's not something that is a huge concern to me. The same can be said (though it's not "based on a true story") for Riley's own film - is it really very plausible that Cassius, having found wealth and success for the first time in his life, and through rather little apparent effort at that, would give it all up so easily out of pangs of conscience? How many real-world examples of that kind of behavior are there, really? But that kind of human nature didn't really fit into Riley's vision with regard to his "radical" politics so we got a more sympathetic character instead of one who rationalizes getting paid. And I don't have a problem with that, personally, because getting the audience on your side is actually very important when you're making a political argument.

Nonetheless, a critique of BlacKkKlansman on historical grounds is perfectly fair. Still, I feel like Riley conflates "the characters in the film" with "cops in general" in a way that the movie itself does not. I certainly did not leave the film thinking that "black folks need to stop worrying about police violence," and I think this is a bizarre mindset to attribute to the film - indeed much of the dialogue between Stallworth and Patrice is about the ethical tension between being a cop and fighting racial injustice. And like I said earlier, my feeling was that the film gives equal weight to her arguments as to Stallworth's; I did not feel like that debate was resolved in Stallworth's favor. I would say the film's viewpoint is closer to thinking that the fight would require both things to happen - the system would need to be fought both from the outside and from within. Which is sensible enough - at some point, for things to really change, good cops are going to need to step up, no matter how much pressure is brought to bear on them from activists and revolutionaries.

But, Riley seems determined to see (the film versions of) Stallworth and his team as a stand-in for all cops, and I just don't see that in the film itself.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#74 Post by whaleallright » Tue Aug 21, 2018 12:00 pm

I would guess that Riley would respond that the idea of "good cops" is itself symptomatic. Not because there aren't cops who are "good people," whatever that means, but because the problems are rooted in the structural role of policing in American life, which transcends the inclinations of individual officers. I'm not sure I 100% buy this argument (mostly because I think it's insufficient, not wrong), but it's one that a lot of people would make.

Riley's critique made me think of Mississippi Burning, in which the FBI are made to be the primary heroes in a drama about the Civil Rights movement. This was objectionable from a number of standpoints—the major one being that Hoover's FBI were at best suspicious of those in the movement, and certainly not supportive of it— even if the particular contours of the drama might be half-defended as historically accurate.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#75 Post by hearthesilence » Tue Aug 21, 2018 12:27 pm

Riley's critique is a bit broader though, as he's applying his general view of law enforcement. The issue with Mississippi Burning is much more specific to the story in the film, although in both cases detractors do bring up law enforcement's history with the respective groups involved. (See Julian Bond's criticism of Mississippi Burning.)

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