- Katherine McLaughlin
- 16 May 2018
Cannes 2018: Spike Lee's latest 'joint' tells the stranger-than-fiction tale of a black cop infiltrating the KKK
Ron Stallworth was the first black man to join the Colorado Springs Police Department back in 1972. In October 1978 he was working in the intelligence team when he came across an advertisement in the newspaper seeking new members for the Ku Klux Klan. He dialled a number, left a message and a few weeks later they called back. That's exactly how this stranger-than-fiction tale of an African-American man infiltrating the KKK began.
Spike Lee applies poetic licence and turns Stallworth's fascinating story into a funny 'joint based on some fo' real, fo' real shit', fusing undercover buddy cop traditions with blaxploitation flavour and adding a dash of Coen brothers-style absurdity. It sees Ron (John David Washington, exuding a seemingly effortless cool) chat on the phone to the KKK, including Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace), while his fellow officer Flip (Adam Driver, bringing it) attends meetings.
Lee begins his film by showing the casualties of the Civil War from Gone with the Wind and stages re-enactments of 1960s racist propaganda, starring Alec Baldwin. Throughout, there are digs at the lack of criticism of films and popular culture with toxic messages, suggesting they feed into the rise of bigoted rhetoric and allow it to become normalised. It ends with shocking real-life footage of modern day white supremacist marches and terrorist acts.
There's laughter in-between, joyful celebrations – including a gorgeous choreographed dance sequence – and powerful recollections of cruelty by Harry Belafonte. Lee concludes by casting an angry eye over the calamitous state of modern America, headed by Donald Trump. In these tumultuous days if you don't laugh you'll cry and, by referencing phrases like 'Make America Great Again', Lee shows he knows that only too well.
Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 24 Aug.