Spike Lee is back! Yes, and with him the talent that we saw in Malcolm X, including his characteristic conceptual density as he takes on historic figures and political questions that are presently quite relevant and raw.
With the tone of a thriller, while maintaining veins of humor throughout, Lee adapts to the cinematic form a true story that had been published previously. It is a story about an African American police officer in Colorado Springs, who goes undercover along with another officer in a local Ku Klux Klan group in an effort to discover terrorist activities. The KKK is an American organization, created in the 19th century, immediately after the War of Secession (or the Civil War, as it was known in the North). The KKK’s main focus is to promote the supremacy of the white race. As a consequence, it foments racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, along with homophobia, anti-Catholicism, and anti-Communism.
Using the conventions of a historical short, and managing humor well, Lee opts for approaching the audience with an emotional veneer. The film begins with a (borrowed) scene from Gone with the Wind, that long sequence that describes a field full of fallen dead and wounded soldiers with the U.S. flag in the foreground in tatters. The theme continues, narrated, and ends with current news clips demonstrating that the antagonists of Gone with the Wind are the predecessors of Donald Trump and contemporary North American neo-Nazis.
Lee doesn’t allow the imagination to fly here: he ensures that we understand the discourse without space for our own creative twists. Yet we see his artistic creativity at work. Each symbol is directed toward his ideological expression, as a black North American. For example, the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag transform into a totally black space, with all of its color removed.
But what is most surprising is that the tone of his narrative is unexpectedly flexible. During the development and conclusion of the story he is able to connect and bewitch with a circus-like feel all of the storylines that present us with the cocktail of hate that is the KKK. And so its members can be seen as clowns. In the final scene, Lee again leaves us with real clips with the intention of moving the viewer to reject the KKK’s hatred and to see its repugnance.
It seems to me that this movie would have been under-appreciated if it had received anything less than the prize it received – the jury’s prize of best film at the Cannes Film Festival. It is an excellent historic film.
Genre: historical comedic drama. Duration: 128 minutes.