BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman ★★★★

I'm seeing a good deal of criticism suggesting that this film is pro-cop, siding with Ron over Patrice. I'm not convinced that's entirely true.

Certainly, we see biracial police partners work together to thwart a KKK attack. Without the police, the attack would have been successful. Adam Driver's "we're a family" statement defending the racist cop who assaulted Patrice and murdered a Black child some years prior is even rebuked by police cooperation in a sting to get that cop to confess. Root out the racists, convince the police officers that thwarting white supremacy is also in their own interests have a more diverse police department, and then they will do what's right. Right?

Except that what happens when a KKK attack is thwarted is that the unseen, unquestionable higher-ups of the police immediately terminate the sting due to "budget cuts." It doesn't matter if you have a diverse department and non-racist cops, because the invisible, all-powerful police institution will not allow white supremacy to be attacked. They will always see "Black Power!" as a bigger threat than "White Power!," as Bridges himself professes to.

Incidentally, there is an equally controversial moment in the film where the White Power and Black Power rallies are cross-cut. Is it equation or is it differentiation? It seems at first that the cross-cutting is delineating difference; one features a man recounting a moment in his youth where a Black friend was tortured after a show-trial, the other features cheers as Klasman terrorize African-Americans in Birth of a Nation. The difference seems starks, and then the attendees cry out the similar slogans, "White Power!" and then "Black Power!" Perhaps they are actually the same?

Maybe, but this moment struck me as more ironic than serious. It's a callback to Bridges statement (echoing the FBI) that the Black Panthers are America's biggest internal threat. "Black Power" is spoken in response to clear injustice, while "White Power" is spoken as a clear endorsement of racist violence. The idea that "Black Power" is somehow the bigger threat, as Bridges/the FBI claim, becomes patently absurd in this moment.

None of this is to say that the film is actually pro-Black Panther—Kwame Ture's rhetoric is dismissed as "just talk" by characters and treated as blatantly unjustifiable by the film. One could also argue it insufficiently demonstrates America's systemic racism: a winking scene about making white supremacy appealing until someone with David Duke's beliefs enters the White House skirts toward "Trump made this happen" rather than, say, "America's institutions, including the police, are a part of this." At the same time, it is not blatantly pro-police and, as the coda makes clear, it does not see "Black Power" and "White Power" as equally extreme slogans.

Less discussed (at least from what I have seen) is the foregrounding of Jewishness in the film. The idea of a white man who, in certain contexts, suddenly finds himself not exactly as white as he has always thought, resonates today, and one of the best things about BlacKkKlansman is how it depicts this realization in Adam Driver's character. Driver's arc serves as a moral condemnation of the choice to not take a stand, to ignore or skate by as others are persecuted for their own, more visible differences. It's a much-needed cry for solidarity of the kind on display in the coda.