Like everything Spike Lee does, its passionate, gripping, perhaps too over the top and I don’t agree with everything he does or says…. but its a great watch.
The klansmen seem like unrealistic buffoons.
I’ve seen other much better depictions of the KKK in film.
Undercover with the KKK (1979)
Topher Grace looks and sounds so much like David Duke its amazing. He should get an Oscar nomination.
It didnt make any sense how the Ron Stallworth became a uniformed cop with a big afro right after his job interview. Don’t new cops have to under a “basic training” style police academy? And aren’t there hair regulations for uniformed police?
The film is set in Colorado Springs but… it being a Spike Lee joint…. I suspect it was made in upstate New York.
Just as Ron was shown to get to be a cop too quickly and easily, I also didn’t quite get how easily he was accepted into the KKK. The most realistic character was where the second in command of KKK wanted the white cop to undergo a lie detector test. THAT I can see. Why would they ( the Klan) trust some guy they just met with secrets that could send them to jail. Surely they knew of Police / FBI infiltrations.
Spike Lee juxtaposes the Klan with the Black Power movement of the 60s and 70s. Its a realistic and believable look at the Black Power movement…… but not so much a convincing look at what might drive someone to join the KKK.
As I did years of research on my racism documentary “The Least of my Brothers” I did a lot of reading on the klan, neo nazis and other far right groups.
Only the second in command of the local Klan chapter felt real. The leader wasn’t so bad… but the fat guy who was ALWAYS drunk seemed too much like a cartoon caricature.
I couldn’t figure out the Colorado Springs Police chief. Was he racist or not? And why?
The film is at its best when Ron listens to a Black Power speech, and although he’s there to spy… you can tell the words are resounding in his mind.
Harry Belafonte is mesmerising in a cameo role, as he sits in a chair and softly tells a story of a real life lynching:
And Belafontes story is intercut with the Klans reacting riotously as they watch “Birth of a Nation.”
KKK Grand Dragon Charles Lee told me the Klan regularly showed “Birth of a Nation.”
That film exagerated the original Klan and so glamourized it, that it leads to real life revival of the KKK.
The ending felt too contrived, and when I did same basic internet research, it was all made up. No bomb plot….. the ” I gotcha” phone call to David Duke never happened. The entrapment of the racist cop never happened, and even as a movie scene felt like a sitcom happy ending.
BUT! Spike Lee added in the footage of the alt-righters in Virginia and the car crash attacks on the liberal protestors. That happened so recently but I had pretty much forgottten about it. David Duke and Trumps comments on the issue were so incendiary.
EDIT! (September 4, 2018)
I read the original book last night. And I am mad at Spike Lee.
Every movie “based on a true story” condenses events and rearranges things for dramatic effect. We all know that. But theres something else going on here.
If the book is true history, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, then the movies first third is accurate, the middle third if iff-ey, but the final third is complete fiction. Not exaggeration, not dramatic license but an absolute lie.
Its bad enough that the screenwriters invented a wholly fictitious bomb plot against a non existent Black power group. And Rons black power girlfriend didn’t exist.
But what really ticks me off is the speaker scene. In the film, a character named Jerome Turner ( beautifully played by Harry Belafonte) meets with a Black student group and tells the true story of Jesse Washington, a young African American man lynched and burned in Waco Texas in May 1916.
The scene is cross cut with the Klansmen getting all riled up watching “Birth of a Nation”. I think Spike Lee was trying to make the point that the KKK operates out of unfounded paranoia and fear, while most “Black Power” groups are simply a reaction to the Klan, and don’t mean any harm to those who aren’t trying to harm them. And that the KKK aren’t under threat from anyone but Black people ARE under threat.
Belafontes deliver is soft and understated but VERY effective.
My problem is that there is no such scene in the book. There is a very similar scene that happened several years after the David Duke visit. Similar in that it was a famous Black man giving a speech.
According to Ron Stallworth, the legendary NAACP leader, Ralph Abernathy ( second in command just under Martin Luther King) came to Colorado to help out in the protests of an “innocent” Black youth who was allegedly “railroaded” in a murder case.
Stallworth said he was assigned to protect Abernathy, and when alone he told him that the young man was clearly guilty of a thrill killing. He wasn’t railroaded. The local Black community was rallying behind a guilty person.
Most Black fears are justified, most protests against injustice are justified. But if Stallworth was right, the Black community was attempting to exonerate a guilty man just because he was Black. That’s just as bad as white racists attempting to convict an innocent man just because he was Black.
ps: Wikipedia says that: