As a Jewish person who watches plenty of movies, I rarely see any representation of the Jewish people unless it is Holocaust-related. Other than that, Hollywood tends to steer away from anti-Semitic issues while they forgive people like Mel Gibson. 2018 had a surprising, Oscar-winning film to come out that sent its message to a broader audience, BlacKkKlansman.
Spike Lee’s latest film has a precise focus, the prejudices that the black community has faced throughout American history and how it relates to today, but there is more to it. The inclusion of Adam Driver’s character Flip Zimmerman broadens the conversation. Members of the KKK hate more than people of color, like Jews. At some point in the story, Flip reveals his Jewish background and deal with some scenes of anti-Semitism.
One of the several ways Lee pays respect to other demographics is by letting Driver take hold of scenes to develop his character. The most gripping has pain, yet remains calm throughout. Flip says this to his partner Ron Stallworth (John David Washington),
“Ron, I wasn’t raised Jewish. It wasn’t a part of my life. So I never thought much about being Jewish, was just another white kid, didn’t even have my Bar Mitzvah. No Chanukah for me. Christmas. In this job, you try to keep things at a distance. You put up a shield, so you don’t feel anything… This shit is deep. When that Fuck Felix had me in that room, and I kept having to deny my heritage… I have been passing.”
While not much more is done throughout the length of the movie, this scene along with a few other vital moments moves the spotlight to another demographic that has been beaten down for years throughout history. Myself included with Flip, I never grew up religiously Jewish or acknowledged it, but plenty of people will hate me for it despite that information.
Uniting people when looking at racism tends the be the point of these films, but usually, the message is generalized, which is not entirely bad. When Ron tries to get Flip to go undercover with him, he brings up that their issues are the same. Ron’s argument is on point since hatred towards a demographic vs. another should bring those groups together. While that is not always the case, this conversation does not separate prejudices into different categories but lumps them together to further the point about people who loathe others for basic reasons from skin color, religion, and more.
Using comedy on serious subjects could undermine the importance of the film’s intent, but Lee, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, and Kevin Willmott utilized humor to enhance their stance on prejudices in America. When Lee spoke to Hollywood Reporter he discussed rather than writing jokes, the focus became about the “absurdity” of the premise and various situations that are seen in the film. Making the audience laughs lightens them up to the darker moments of the narrative without overwhelming them with crazed Klan members ready to burn crosses.
Anyone sensible can laugh at scenes where Klansmen talk about how Jews killed Jesus or how the Holocaust never happened. We know the truth, so knowing people think this way is laughable while concerning. Without the right tone, the impact would be altered, for better or for worse. In this case, Lee managed to strike a necessary balance to execute his latest project.
Presenting an argument has its dos and don’ts to win over an audience. While BlacKkKlansman has its flaws in its presentation, one thing it gets right is avoiding the Hitler fallacy. If an argument makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazi Party, then that hit the head on the nail for this mistake often made. Plenty of factors go into why this is a terrible idea, but some of it stems from overuse and timeliness. The Holocaust happened so long ago, if one wants to make an example of a tyrannical leader or a case of atrocities against a demographic, then it is more impactful to use an example that is more recent. The 70s may appear so long ago, but much closer and relevant compared to the 40s. The use of footage from Charlottesville ties together the Stallworth’s journey all those years ago with how racism acts in today’s America.
BlacKkKlansman has its issues like any other piece of entertainment, but it holds plenty of significance to the problems minorities and other demographics face. It may get preachy here and there with its agenda, but the overall message is well executed. Some may not like Lee’s latest flick, but he has done a better job for the Jewish community than most filmmakers. Hopefully, others look to what has been done well here and can improve upon it when representing people who have been pushed down by Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists.
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