Discussion for 4/9: BlackkKlansman

For today’s class discussion, write at least 300 words on your reaction to the following film review. Do you agree with Spike Lee that the culture’s (and the media’s) definition of “beauty” is at the heart of America’s problem with racism?

Images, culture, movies themselves are Lee’s central subject. The main idea of “BlacKkKlansman” is mediation—the creation and the spread of ideas themselves in art and in discourse. Lee’s own movie has the heightened, antic (though not comedic) air of a tall tale, reflecting not only the astonishment of the story itself but also Lee’s self-aware deployment of the story as a didactic fable of modern political power.

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“BlacKkKlansman” is filled with speeches, both onscreen and in voice-over, as well as with movie images and references, as when, early on in the film, Ron heads to the small local theatre where Ture is speaking. There, where most filmmakers would likely offer a few potentially controversial lines from a speech, Lee turns the speech into a grand scene of political theatre. Ture (played with a thrilling rhetorical vitality by Corey Hawkins) delivers an extensive speech in which he makes clear the connection between art—and aesthetics over all—and political power. He says, “You must define beauty for black people, and that’s black power”—and he means beauty in the most ordinary sense, discussing his own appearance as a black man and contrasting it with familiar media images of beauty.

Throughout the sequence, Lee doubles Ture’s speech with closeup images of black people in the audience, using gentle effects to pull the faces out of their immediate dramatic context and exalt them as images of beauty. Ture discusses his childhood delight in the series of Tarzan movies—emphasizing the self-hatred that they imbued him with and likening the experience to Jewish children watching a movie about a concentration camp that stokes them to root for the Nazis. He also links this self-hatred to black Americans’ endurance of life in “captive communities” and violence by racist police officers; his concluding call is for “an undying love for black people”—and Lee’s images of the audience members are themselves small but strongly symbolic acts of love.

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