BlacKkKlansman review (2018)

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize in this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, has all the necessary elements to become a success and it will most likely receive several Oscar nominations. The film is relentlessly funny, it has an interesting story full of conflict and it deals with a subject that is more important than ever. Yes, it is a film about racism in America. But it sure is more than that. Spike Lee makes a very clear stance in his new film; he criticizes the deeply problematic core of the American society and its political situation, showing that even after so many struggles and movements for the black community, the country reeks of discrimination and injustice, unable to overcome its heavy racist past.

The film is loosely based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a rookie police officer, who is the only African American officer to work in Colorado Springs during the seventies, 1972 to be precise. His passion and ambition to become a good cop will lead him to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan by pretending he wants to join the organization. Not only will he manage to establish a relationship, over the phone, with the members of KKK, but he will become the leader’s (David Duke) favorite member. While Ron is creating trust between him and the KKK, his colleague, Flip Zimmerman is the one who goes undercover, pretending to be Ron. Flip will have to attend meetings and prove that he is a dangerous bigot, worthy of a KKK membership.

The story might be set in the 70s, however, its message expands to today. The film foregrounds KKK’s irrational racism only to create a continuum of unstoppable fanaticism that relates to what happens today. In the film, the past and the present are juxtaposed, while history and fiction are merged together with the sole purpose to show how America’s political and social realities have barely changed during the last decades. Instead, America seems to be moving backward, to old and dangerous political methods that jeopardize the country’s identity and well-being. The similarities the Trump administration shares with the KKK’s beliefs are too many to ignore, and are, frankly, very frightening. Spike Lee knows this very well.

While BlacKkKlansman is deliberately a funny movie, Spike Lee treats the important moments of the story with respect. Those moments are always foregrounded and they receive the attention and care that they deserve. For example, when Ron decides to infiltrate the KKK by making that very first phone call, Spike Lee uses a Dutch angle shot, only to maximize the moment’s dramatic importance. Similar foregrounding occurs when the black student association realizes their power for change, or when the KKK reveals its delusional racist schemes. The examples are countless.

BlacKkKlansman is electrifying and it has the ability to stir many feelings, mostly those of rage and disappointment. Let me describe one of the most powerful sequences in the movie: the KKK is having an initiation ritual that is followed by the screening of Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), an event that is juxtaposed with the gathering of the black student association where Jerome Turner, (played by Harry Belafonte) is telling the chilling story of the black man who was falsely accused and brutally murdered in the hands of the police. The juxtaposition of the two groups is so immensely powerful, that you will feel chills all over your body. I know I did.

As mentioned before, BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly a hilarious movie. It consists of jokes, punch lines, and ridiculous representations of the KKK. It also includes a main character who, beyond his funny exterior, is capable of showing his deep identity struggle. During a scene with Patrice, the fearless president of the black student association, Ron starts a discussion about DuBois, the civil rights activist, and sociologist who first talked about the notion of ‘double consciousness’. This notion refers to how it feels to be American and black, two identities in one body that only collide with each other (double consciousness was a prominent concept in America during the 20s when the Harlem Renaissance thrived). While Ron and Patrice share their thoughts on the matter, they both feel different about it. Ron feels divided between his black identity and his American one, mostly due to his guilt of choosing to become a police officer. Patrice, on the other hand, doesn’t feel that way. For her, there is no double consciousness; to be black and to be American are one unified identity, exactly how it should be.

As said before, the film is penetrated by intense juxtapositions. Scenes with one group screaming ‘black power’ and the other group screaming ‘white power’, are strongly juxtaposed to show that hate can only divide the two groups. And hate becomes a threat when people act on it. However, the people who protest shouting ‘black power’ are the ones whose outrage is more than justified. The other group’s voice, though, represents an irrational racist attitude that still seems to be very popular these days. The KKK is ridiculed and its members are presented as caricatures, however, the film never forgets to show how dangerous they can become, always scheming sinister plans to undermine the black community. It is scary to see how similar the KKK tactics seem to be with the ones of the current American government.

Since, BlacKkKlansman‘s screening in Cannes and after its official distribution to the rest of the world, the heated discussion around the film continues. BlacKkKlansman has received mostly positive reviews, however, it has also received some serious criticism. Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, has strongly criticized Lee’s latest film. In his article on Aljazzera, professor Dabashi calls Spike Lee’s view on racism as “out of touch”, while he states that the director focuses on satisfying the liberal Obama audiences who can only laugh at the KKK caricatures, without recognizing how their own actions have led to the current Trump reality. The criticism towards the film expands further, calling the representation of the black community as “cartoonish” who “exude a fanatical obsession with the race”, a comment that, while it holds some truth, it is too polarized in its own totality. With a subject so serious and more timely than ever, that of racism, no one can ever be happy with how it is presented in a contemporary film. There will always be people who feel dissatisfied, offended, and even insulted by small or big things that don’t represent reality or don’t cover every possible side of a story. Let us not forget that this film is made for the entertainment business, that it aims to first entertain and then make a stance, the way Spike Lee felt was necessary. A film cannot solve the issue of racism in two hours or discover its roots, and the suggestion that it should is simply ridiculous.

Beyond the film’s criticism, Spike Lee’s ability to make Ron Stallworth’s story funny, witty, deeply political, and brutally critical at the same time, is striking. The film’s message is undoubtedly its condemnation towards the current American political situation. Lee has been very outspoken about the Trump administration and its (not so) hidden racism. But above all, the most important feature of BlacKkKlansman is the universality of its subject and its message that racism is worth fighting for.

Why The ‘Black Panther’ matters

In the midst of Black History Month, Marvel studios released one of its most critically acclaimed films of the last years – dare say of the decade – during an era where black identity and consciousness are more important than ever. The Black Panther, even though it follows the classical superhero formula (it is still a Marvel movie), it reaches deep levels of representing and understanding the black identity. And that is groundbreaking.

The story follows the fictional country of Wakanda in the heart of Africa, where, hidden from the rest of the world, its residents are enjoying the wealths and advantages of vibranium: a valuable and powerful mineral. This mineral is used for hundreds of years in Wakanda and has helped the area to develop technologically and socially in such a way that every western country would kill for. That is why Wakanda’s powerful king, the Black Panther, has a very important mission: protect the country and its people from anything that jeopardizes their prosperity.

But now Wakanda’s old king is dead, which means that his son T’Challa is claiming the throne. Wakanda might be a powerful and progressive state, but it stays true to African history. T’Challa needs to claim the throne through an ancient ritual where warriors of every tribe in Wakanda challenge him to a fight. T’Challa, as a rightful heir, wins the battle and becomes the king of Wakanda. He is offered to drink vibranium which gives him superhuman powers that are necessary to protect the identity and wealth of the country. He is now the Black Panther. Soon he realizes that certain amounts of vibranium have reached the global black market. With the help of his fierce warriors, T’Challa will have to bring vibranium home and ensure that the truth about Wakanda stays hidden. But he will soon be confronted by his father’s past.

The Black Panther’s story unfolds with the help of the classical narration formula, where elements of family drama merge with superhero characteristics. Ghosts of the past are appearing when a young black American, Killmonger, is desperately trying to obtain the valuable Wakanda resource. He is the movie’s villain, an outsider who is deeply defined by his own personal story; growing up in the streets of Los Angeles, he is the victim of an old mistake T’Challa’s father made. Killmonger is not the typical revengeful Marvel maniac who wants to destroy the superhero at all costs. He is much more. The film makes sure that we see his reasons, feelings and motives so that we can understand the story’s ethical dilemma: is Wakanda responsible for the black people who suffer throughout the world or should Wakanda preserve its technological innovations and stay silent?

“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.” – Killmonger

The king of Wakanda will do anything to protect the country’s resources and secret weapons, so that the imperialists of the world won’t exploit them, as the colonialists of the previous centuries did with Africa. But Killmonger too, would do anything to bring justice to the global black community; the powerful weapons of Wakanda will destroy anyone that ever harmed Africa and will finally give its people what they deserve. The deep political messages of the film manage to transcend its story and form, while the question pends: what is the responsibility of a wealthy African country towards the African diaspora and the world?

This film is a platform of foregrounding the identity of Africa and the history of the continent. Wakanda’s political and social status is put next to Africa’s; it represents many African countries, if those countries were left alone by the European colonial powers of the past, who ravaged the continent from its people and its wealth. Thus, Wakanda wants to be left alone and continue its progress, away from the rest of the world. It needs its isolation in order to thrive. The message, thus, is clear: while modern Africa suffers the consequences of white colonialism (the film condemns that in its way), it needs to be left alone.

This is the first time a mainstream blockbuster movie is including powerful black heroes; this is very rare, especially in this movie genre. White directors, writers and actors have been dominating the entire genre (and the entire movie industry) for decades, excluding their black colleagues. This is changing. The importance of the film’s representation might not be so obvious to white audiences, since we haven’t experienced the marginalization in the arts as black people have. But consider what it means for any black kid to watch black people be represented in this way; they won’t feel marginalized, they won’t feel excluded. They will feel they belong. That is why this movie is so important.

What is also amazing in this movie is the unapologetic representation of the female. All female characters are presented equal to the male ones; they are strong, independent, powerful, and above all their opinion matters. They are owing their own identity. The film doesn’t have to explain its choices on the matter – as Wonder Woman did – it is just how it should be. The character of Okoye, the loyal warrior of the king, is so empowering that I got the chills while watching her on screen (actress Danai Gurira is equally inspiring in real life).

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER
L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)
Credit: Matt Kennedy/©Marvel Studios 2018

The aesthetic of Afrofuturism, pervades the film and elevates it to modernity. For those who don’t know (I didn’t either before writing this) Afrofuturism refers to the point where African or African-American culture meets technology. Specifically, it combines science and historical fiction, fantasy and an ideology that focuses on African history (Afrocentrism). The Black Panther has Afrofuturism as its base, showing the importance of a powerful and influential culture that has always been marginalized throughout its history.

The deep political messages of the film overshadow its typical Hollywood narration, structure and humor. When you ignore the shiny super-hero packaging of a Marvel movie, those messages stand proud in front of the world. In this world where solidarity has lost its meaning, the film stands strong with its humanitarian sensitivity, powerful black and female representations, African history and identity; it is a beautiful, bold and honest film.

Call me by your name (2017)

Summer of 1983, Northern Italy. Seventeen year-old Elio lives with his family in their summer house, when Oliver, his father’s research assistant arrives. Oliver will stay with them for the whole summer to work with Elio’s dad on Greek-Roman art sculptures. Elio will soon be intrigued by this new guest, whose magnetic presence will ignite something inside Elio, something new and undiscovered.

The new film by Luca Guadagnino is the big surprise of this year’s award season. With 4 Oscar nominations {Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)}, and already more than 40 other wins (including the recent Golden Globes), Call me by your name is a breathtaking love story between two young men set in the 80s. Written by James Ivory and Luca Guadagnino, the film is based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman and it is the final installment in Guadagnino’s thematic Desire trilogy, following I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015).



The story simple: Elio volunteers to show Oliver around the area. The two of them will develop a friendship that will ultimately expose their deep desire for each other. Elio is fascinated and at the same time irritated by Oliver’s infatuating personality. Oliver is intelligent, handsome and absolutely captivating; he flirts with women and knows how to enjoy life, while Elio is young, shy and inexperienced. Through the explorations of their surroundings, they also explore their own sexuality and consequently their own identity. What we witness on screen is a marvelous portrait of love and desire that unlocks new and wonderful possibilities. Elio and Oliver fall madly in love, while Elio discovers his sexuality and his own self through Oliver. What they have is effortless and natural; it is real.

Guadagnino has managed to create a film that looks effortless. The natural way with which everything flows is one of the film’s best qualities. The entirety of the shots are flawless: he uses intense close-ups to demonstrate Elio’s emotional state, while he foregrounds the relationship’s course and Elio’s sexual journey. The erotic atmosphere of the film is smooth and comes out naturally due to the impeccable chemistry of the two actors. Chalamet has righteously won all those awards, while he flirts with his first Oscar this year. His performance as the frustrated Elio who explores his sexuality through his relationship with Oliver is amazing. His body language conveys the impatience and desire of a young man and it expresses his character’s inner world with such an integrity that his performance becomes almost pure.

The Italian landscape and the carelessness of the summer create an environment that allows the audience to discover without haste the relationship of Elio and Oliver. When swimming and laying under the sun become priorities, then somehow the process of realizing yourself and your needs is unveiled. The amazing score is also contributing to experience the film as effortlessly and naturally as possible, since the music’s soft and restless notes reveal a romanticism that is comparable to Shakespearean love.

This film is a landmark of love, and particularly gay love; one that is unique, deep and universal. Elio and Oliver’s story is one that doesn’t happen every day. At one of the last scenes of the film, Elio’s father is openly talking to his son about love and desire; he talks with honesty and compassion about all those things every young person wants to hear from their parent. Truthful and inspiring words that place the film on a cinematic pedestal, one that is carved with beautiful and exquisite Greek-Roman details.

This is the type of film that leaves its mark on the viewer; it is the type of film which is above all an experience. You witness step by step the development of those characters and their relationship, you feel them, and along with them, you discover parts in yourself you didn’t know exist. Parts that talk about deep love and are authentic. Call me by your name is an intense portrait of love; a love that has the power to change, transform and shape one’s life. Elio and Oliver meet in Northern Italy only to discover that by loving each other, they ultimately learn to love and appreciate who they really are. And that is priceless.

(Photos taken from the web.)

Η Αφιξη (2016)

Αυτή η ταινία είναι αναμφισβήτητα μία από τις καλύτερες που απολαύσαμε φέτος τον χειμώνα. Μπορεί να κατατάσσεται στην κατηγορία του «εξωγήινου» είδους, κάτι που μας είχε εξαρχής αποσυντονίσει, αφού αναμέναμε δράση, πόλεμο και πολλά οπτικά εφέ, όμως η ταινία αυτή ασχολείται με κάτι πολύ διαφορετικό, και γι’ αυτό την λατρέψαμε.

Αποφάσισα να γράψω, μετά από πολύ καιρό, – και μία ομολογουμένως εμφανή απουσία – για μία από τις, πλέον, πιο αγαπημένες μου ταινίες. Μέσα από λίγες σκέψεις θα προσπαθήσω να δώσω την ουσία της ταινίας, έτσι όπως την αντιλαμβάνομαι εγώ, ελπίζοντας αυτό το άρθρο να εξάψει παρόμοια αγάπη και θαυμασμό.

Όλα ξεκινούν με την άφιξη 12 αεροσκαφών εξωγήινης προέλευσης σε διαφορετικά σημεία του πλανήτη. Αυτά τα αεροσκάφη είναι άγνωστο εάν ήρθαν με ειρηνικές ή πολεμικές διαθέσεις. Η παρουσία τους στον πλανήτη Γη προκαλεί φόβο, παράνοια και άπειρες ερωτήσεις στην επιστημονική και μη ανθρώπινη κοινότητα. Σε αυτό το σημείο, η καθηγήτρια γλωσσολογίας Louise Banks καλείται να μεταφράσει, με την βοήθεια μιας εξειδικευμένης ομάδας, τα σήματα που στέλνουν οι εξωγήινοι, ώστε να καταστεί κατανοητό ο λόγος που ήρθαν στη Γη.

Η ίδια η Louise φαίνεται ότι είναι συναισθηματικά απασχολημένη με το θάνατο της κόρης της. Για αυτό το λόγο η αφήγηση βασίζεται στην συναισθηματική κατάσταση της ηρωίδας και το πώς αντιλαμβάνεται την πραγματικότητα γύρω της. Είναι μόνη και απομονωμένη: οι μνήμες και οι σκέψεις της καταλαμβάνουν και καταβροχθίζουν την καθημερινότητά της, ακόμη και όταν καλείται να συνεργαστεί με την παγκόσμια γλωσσολογική και επιστημονική κοινότητα. Ή έστω αυτό βλέπουμε εξαρχής.

Καθώς όμως προχωρά η ταινία, και η ίδια γίνεται μέρος της πρώτης επαφής με την εξωγήινη ζωή, τα σπασμένα κομμάτια του παζλ αρχίζουν να ενώνονται, δημιουργώντας ένα ψηφιδωτό στιγμών και καταστάσεων που επαναπροσδιορίζουν την ηρωίδα και την ψυχολογική της κατάσταση. Τα σκορπισμένα αφηγηματικά κομμάτια που παρακολουθούμε σιγά σιγά δημιουργούν έναν κόσμο και μία πραγματικότητα που από το προσωπικό μεταπηδά με ποιητική και μελαγχολική δεξιότητα στο καθολικό.

Η ανθρωπότητα και η συναισθηματική και πνευματική της αντίληψη έχει τη δυνατότητα να εξελιχθεί σε κάτι που ξεπερνά την κοινή λογική. Εμφανίζεται μία μοναδική ευκαιρία για το ανθρώπινο είδος που είναι ικανή να προσφέρει ένα είδους διορατικότητας. Το εξωγήινο στοιχείο παύει να είναι κάτι το εξωπραγματικό και ξένο, γίνεται ένα με την ανθρώπινη συνείδηση και μεταμορφώνεται σε κάτι νέο, που τελικά γίνεται με τη σειρά του κοινό και γνώριμο.

Η γλωσσολογική πλευρά της ιστορίας προσδίδει μία νέα και ιδιαίτερη βάση στην ταινία (πρώτη φορά γίνεται η γλωσσολογία μέρος της κύριας δομής μιας ταινίας: άλλος ένας λόγος που την λάτρεψα), και προσφέρει κάτι απροσδόκητο: έναν τρόπο επικοινωνίας με ότι πάντοτε φοβόμασταν. Το άγνωστο, το ξένο, το διαφορετικό.

Η επαφή μεταξύ του ανθρώπινου και του εξωγήινου στοιχείου δεν βασίζεται στα οπτικά εφέ και στην αέναη ανάγκη του ανθρώπου να προσπαθεί να σώσει τη Γη από τους πολεμοχαρείς εξωγήινους, αλλά στην αλληλεγγύη, στην συνεργασία, στην ανάγκη για επαφή και κατανόηση.

Με εξαιρετική φωτογραφία και ίσως την πιο εύθραυστη ερμηνεία της Amy Adams έως τώρα, «Η Άφιξη» ανασυντάσσει την έννοια της εξωγήινης απειλής και εμπνέει με τις πανέμορφες χρωματικές παλέτες των πλάνων της.

(Photo: Google images)

La Notte (1961) by Michelangelo Antonioni

Antonioni’s films are a big inspiration of mine. Not only for their cinematography, but also for their subject matter: feelings and relationships. La Notte is one of my all time classic favorite. It has inspired me to write many poems and create moody and abstract photographs. I am fascinated by the way it’s made, but also by its dialogs. Here I will share some of the shots that I really love and why.

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The line of action is on the side of the frame, where the subjects stand with their back at the camera. Those wide-shots place the characters harmonically either in an urban environment or in the countryside. Simple, but breathtaking. Their figures are carried away into the vastness of the world they live in.

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When Antonioni places his characters in medium shots, he never does it randomly. Every shot is composed with care where everything is in deep focus; foreground, middle ground and background are all sharp in focus, so that we see the reactions of every character in the shot.


This deep contrast focuses on the intense emotional state of the character at that moment (the night has ended and she feels the vanity of a love affair). She is tired and drained. Her figure is prominently in the center of the frame and you are tempted to imagine how her thoughts drift away from her own self.


Characters who immerse themselves in their emotions. Characters whose life is weighting them down and suffocate them. They don’t communicate with each other anymore. Something precious is lost. These are people who are searching to feel the fascination of falling in love one more time. They want to feel loved and appreciated. Their need to remember love leads them towards empty and futile relationships. These are people whose actions hurt and punish each other. But these actions remind them what love really is about.


Alone and lost in the streets of Milan, the woman tries impatiently to feel something while walking in the streets. She is lonely and lost. She walks and walks, in an attempt to remember if she has any feelings left for her husband. Her walk is an elegy of loneliness. Her figure next to those vast buildings seems so small, like the love in her heart. She appears behind a corner and then slowly disappears. The slow pace of her movement reminds me of the slow decline in our emotional capacity; feelings fade away and we lose ourselves into the absence of love. There is nothing left.


Her hand is tearing apart pieces of a wall. She is exploring her own empty relationship; there is nothing between her and her husband, only ruins. Antonioni puts his character next to big, emotionless city buildings, creating an inescapable parallelism; she is empty and dead inside, just like those buildings are. Her movement between them dehumanizes her own existence. Those buildings seem to force her into solitude, but also remind her that she won’t compromise her own life in a marriage that is long dead.

Poetic and honest, mesmerizing and illuminating, La Notte is a magnificent testimony of pure cinematic art.

(The images are screenshots of mine, but also taken from the web.)