At its world premiere on Monday in Cannes, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman was reportedly received by a 10-minute standing ovation, after several points during the film when audiences erupted in applause. More precisely, via the Hollywood Reporter: “four minutes of applause during the credits and a six-minute standing ovation.”
Based solely on the trailer, released earlier today, you can get an inkling why: plotwise and stylistically, it looks like Lee’s most solid offering in awhile, or at least has more potential and energy than recent not-great narrative offerings like Chi-Raq, Red Hook Summer, and She’s Gotta Have It. Starring John David Washington and Adam Driver as Colorado Springs cops collaborating to infiltrate a Klan chapter headed by David Duke, BlacKkKlansman is based on a true story or, as the trailer puts it, “some fo’ real, fo’ real shit”—an autobiography by Ron Stallworth, the first black cop in Colorado Springs.
The topic is clearly evergreen—Stallworth was dealing with it in 1972—but certain themes no doubt resonated with Cannes audiences, particularly in the racist extremist language proffered by the Klan in the trailer, and how they parallel statements said by America’s most prominent politicians at the moment, up to the chants of “America First.” In an early review, Screen Daily writes that he fixes on that aspect—that he “hits too hard on the connections between his film’s milieu and America’s current racial woes,” but that “the lack of subtlety can sometimes feel like a tonic, speaking plainly to the country’s deep, violent divisions that can seem intractable.”
But while this tension might seem more pronounced now, it’s not as new as some seem to think, and portraying the taut futility of American racism with a frank and fish-eye view is what Lee has done his whole career, deftly and often masterfully, although his recent material has failed to hit the right notes. Cannes seemed to love BlacKkKlansman anyway, and at the very least its vitality in the trailer is palpable. It’s out in the States on August 10.