Spike Lee has returned with his velvet hammer.  It's a visceral moviegoing experience, and not just because of all the overt racism.  This is “based on a true story.”

            Back in the 1970's, in Colorado Springs, a black man actually infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.  Well, sort of.  Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) was a rookie policeman—and the only black officer--- in Colorado Springs who was looking to get out of the evidence storage room, and volunteered to go undercover in narcotics.  But soon another opportunity presented itself.  On a lark, Stallworth had called a local number inquiring about membership in a secret “organization” that was all about white supremacy.  Stallworth told his chief he could talk two languages:  the King's English and jive.  Sure enough, the man who answered the phone didn't realize Stallworth was black, and invited him to come to a meeting.  This resulted in a kind of double scam, where one of the other cops, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) had to go in his place, and pretend to sound like Stallworth.  And be a good enough actor to fit in with all the racist diatribe, even though he didn't believe it himself.

            In the movie, Zimmerman is actually a Jew by birth, but apparently grew up in a non-practicing household, so he'd never really thought about his heritage, until now.  Until the Jews are the continual targets of disparagement from this white supremacy group.   This Colorado Springs chapter was apparently flourishing in the early 1970's, at least enough to plan a few strategic cross-burnings.  There was also a lot of gruff talk about violence, but Zimmerman discounted it all as posturing, until he realized they were serious.  Then he needed to act like a real detective and try to find out when and where.

            Meanwhile, Ron Stallworth gets interested in a young woman, Patrice (Laura Harrier), who's a local campus radical.  She's President of the Black Students Association at Colorado State, and arranges to bring in Stokely Carmichael to speak at a black power rally.  Now comes the romantic tension:  Ron is insterested in dating Patrice, and there seems to be a spark there, but once she finds out who he is, she thinks he's a sell-out. 

            Here's where Director Spike Lee artfully interchanges the black power rallies and the KKK meetings.  They're both radical, and they both want change.  But they agree about absolutely nothing. 

When David Duke comes to town (the Grand Wizard of the national organization), Ron Stallworth is assigned by his chief to be the official police bodyguard.  How's that for irony?

            Yes, the undercover operation has a conclusion, but Lee hustles us through that narrative in order to show us footage from Charlottesburg, Virginia, August 11-12, 2017, where white supremist marchers clashed with counter-protestors, resulting in several fatalities and scores of injuries.  And then comes that infamous clip of President Trump declaring that “there were very fine people on both sides.”

            Yes, Spike Lee has returned with his velvet hammer.  And if you talk about racism all the way home, as we did, then Mr. Lee has probably accomplished his purpose.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association