The Best Picture Nominees: BlacKkKlansman

| February 9, 2019

The 91st Annual Academy Awards are just 15 days away and celebrate I am taking a look at all eight of the year’s selections in the Best Picture nominees.

Once upon a time the release of a new Spike Lee joint came with a set of expectations.  You knew that a new film by this most inflammatory of American directors would not only piss you off but would challenge your perceptions about the uneasy American racial landscape.  He looked it dead in the eye and saw it in the cold light of day to such a degree that some – by some backward logic – accused him of being racist himself. Nonsense of course; what you took away from his films was entirely up to you.  He has never been a director who was out to curry your favor.  He presents America simply as he sees it and leaves the viewer to take away from it what they will.

And still, Lee’s commentary on the white-washing of Hollywood got under a lot of people’s skin.  Why is he attacking an industry that is giving him his artistic license?  Well, consider that now his arguments have come to pass.  Hollywood is now in the middle of reformatting how it sees and evaluates differing cultures largely in response to a rallying cry for diversity that Lee himself helped to put in motion.

Five years ago he was at the head of the #oscarssowhite movement, which helped move the Academy toward recognizing talents that it had a history of ignoring.  Now Lee is part of that change.  BlacKkKlansman is the first film that he has ever directed that has received a Best Picture nomination and he has received his first nod for Best Director.  And what a MOVIE?!

On the surface, BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth who in 1972 became the first African-American police officer in the history of the Colorado PD and worked to take down the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.  Underneath its slick exterior the film is more unexpectedly a sly decrement of Hollywood’s affirmation of the Klan 104 years ago with D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation.  Lee pulls together the best tools of his filmmaker arsenal to pull the rug out from under the bullshit affirmation of Griffith’s filmmaking skill as an excuse for turning out one of the most execrable pieces of racist propaganda ever put on the screen.  He further asserts that if you think Griffith’s epic was the only film to do so, you haven’t been paying attention.

Lee and producer Jordan Peele have put together a film that seems to have a singular purpose but pulls in all measures of racial history over the past century.  In doing so, Lee manages a tricky and very skillful juggling act.  BlacKkKlansman is funny and thrilling, sacred and profane and serves as one of the best as-is commentaries on the state of race not only in the 70s but from the time of The Birth of a Nation until the current moment.  And still, the best magic trick that he’s able to pull of is in making a film that is commentary but tricks you into being wildly entertained at the same time.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.