Racism as entertainment can be a dangerous thing. You have to make sure you balance your work on a very fine line while trying to be authentic without being offensive. Audiences can be unforgiving when it comes to this subject matter.
“Ron Stallworth, an African American police officer from Colorado Springs, CO, successfully manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan branch with the help of a Jewish surrogate who eventually becomes its leader. Based on actual events.”
I didn’t read much about the film before watching it. My only expectation, from what little I had gathered, was that it was going to center around racial ideologies of the ’70s, and there would be a little bit of a comedic element to it, according to the synopsis I read by Roger Ebert.
After watching the film, I found that I feel inept at writing an adequate review of it. It was very ‘meaty’, and, I have to be honest with myself about this, there’s a lot of content there that I simply don’t have the depth to unpack with just one viewing. The way Spike Lee approached his analysis of racism was intelligently portrayed to an exceptional level. Though, I have the impression I lacked some of the education and upbringing to really grasp what he was saying in this film. I feel a little bad, like I missed something really extraordinary. Maybe when I watch it again I’ll be better equipped to pick up on more of the nuances I wasn’t able to grasp the first time through. I know they’re there, I just think I wasn’t able to catch them, given that I’m a “suburban white chick”.
First of all, I felt that I wasn’t the target audience for the film. I could appreciate the struggle of the African American community that Spike Lee was communicating, but I felt that the guilt of my ‘white privilege’ kept getting in the way of me really feeling it. On a conscious level, there was a perception-altering recognition for the struggles African Americans have to endure, regardless of decade. But, subconsciously, the guilt is there blocking my real cognizance of the adversity.
Even though some of the movie missed its mark on me, there were scenes that did make me very aware of the struggle. There were a few scenes in which characters made repeated racial slurs, and others where they referenced violence against blacks and Jews that really upset me. They were uncomfortable to watch and made me wonder how anyone could stand to be in the same room as people who would spew such venomous hate.
I can’t fully break down any of the production value – acting, lighting, shot composition, music, etc. – because I was too busy absorbing the story to pay attention to that part of it. Which I guess is a good thing, to a degree. That’s the thing about film production, when you do your job well, audiences get so sucked into the film that no one really notices. If you really want a solid breakdown of the production value, you can find it in the Roger Ebert review.
Even if every single nuance of the film didn’t fully land for me this first time through, I still can appreciate the passion that Spike Lee put into this film, and understand the overarching message. We’ve come so far in our fight against racism in past decades, but yet then realizing that these sentiments still exist show us how far we still have to go.
(Check out my other blog post about my personal experience with racism called The Dance.)