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.

Martin Scorsese – The Exhibition 25/5-3/9

He is one of the most famous and most loved American filmmakers of his generation. His movies have inspired many and his distinctive personal style has shaped attitudes and modes throughout the years.

If you don’t know it already, the Eye Film Museum in Amsterdam has been hosting Scorsese’s exhibition since last May. With an immense personal collection (Scorsese’s and De Niro’s) of objects (over 400), memorabilia, awards, documents, photographs, and a compilation of film fragments, this exhibition guides you through the beginning of Scorsese’s inspirations and his life work with care and great self-awareness.

The exhibition is wisely divided according to the general themes of Scorsese’s films and inspirations. The main ones are family, heroes, brothers, relationships between men and women and are the most intense and descriptive ones throughout the exhibition. They include many key film fragments that are projected on large screens, but also photographs, small video fragments, objects and storyboards that show how and why Scorsese chose those themes in his work. Evidently, this part is very interesting and powerful, representing consistently the key inspirations and film subjects Scorsese utilized the most.

After those sections, the least important ones follow, such as editing, camerawork, cinephile and music. The section of New York is perhaps the one that almost every guest feels the need to explore a little bit further. There are clips, many film objects exhibited and even a giant wall poster with a yellow neon Mean Streets sign and Travis Bickle’s wonderings in Times Square. Here, you can take the well-deserved selfie.

The exhibition covers successfully the whole spectrum of Scorsese’s filmic career and focuses on his early and most acclaimed work. Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and Raging Bull are perhaps the most present films in this exhibition that reappear in many sections and the ones that made Scorsese famous for his glorified view on violence. The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator are also some of the films you will see a lot, however, not much is shown from Gangs of New York or Hugo. Nevertheless, the small screens hanging in every corner include clips from almost all his films. You also get the chance to witness his early student work and his documentaries about New York and his Italian-American family that are not so famous. While you enjoy his vast and diverse filmic work, much of his personal stimuli and inspirations prove vital for the full experience of this exhibition. You will discover the incidents and events that shaped young Martin and the ways he conceived his filmic ideas.

His style and touch are present everywhere in the exhibition, which makes everything more personal and somehow more accessible. For this reason, in many parts of this exhibition you hear Scorsese’s own voice narrating a story accompanied by an old movie fragment that functioned as an inspiration. Those clips are short and create the strange feeling that he is there with you, guiding you through what you see. The exhibition knows what it’s offering and how to present it and the director’s guidance creates intimacy, while you stroll around watching, hearing, touching and reading everything he ever made or loved.

Scorsese recognizes his own importance and has created an inspiring and honest exhibition for anyone, either a young filmmaker, a cinephile, or a fan. The exhibition is a personal journey on the director’s work and inspiration that helps you realize his importance, contribution and influence on cinema. The exhibition succeeds that by showing everything in a truthful and simple manner.

While walking through the exhibition – which takes approximately 2 hours – you feel this raw and rough sensation overcoming you, which is soon replaced by a familiar sense that you have been inside Scorsese’s brain. Not because you visually witness his work and life in front of you, but because he allows you to.  And that is a luxury you can’t say no to.



Additional information: Every written text of the exhibition is offered in English and Dutch, and is at times overwhelming. Nevertheless, it accompanies the visual part quite effectively. Except for the exhibition, you can watch many of Scorsese’s films in the museum’s screening rooms, but also some of his personal favorites. Check the full calendar here. 

How to get there: from the Amsterdam train station, you walk towards the back of the station, you reach the port, and you get one of the ferries that depart frequently. They are for free.

Prices: a full price is 13 euros, a reduced 11.5 euros and if you own a Museumkaart it costs 3 euros extra. Book them here.

The exhibition starts at 10 am and is open till 7pm. The film screenings are till 10pm. For more information, visit the Eye Film Museum website. If you book tickets online, you avoid the queues in the entrance of the museum.

(Photographs are taken with a Samsung phone, that is why the quality is poor)

Het Fries Museum: The pride of Friesland

Walking towards the Frisian Museum, its majestic building is prominent to the visitor’s eye. With its big glass windows and its modern form, the unique building stands out without deviating from the architecture of the rest of the Wilhelminaplein buildings. Located in the center of Leeuwarden, the capital of the Friesland province, the museum is considered to be the personification of real Frisian pride! In its three floors you can explore parts of the history, art and culture of Friesland.

When entering the first part of the museum, sounds of farming life dominate the space. Church bells, sheep, tractors, thunder. In combination with the enormous landscape pictures on the wall, the first impression is totally…Frisian! The first floor is dedicated to history, geography and the Frisian culture, while it offers detailed information over why Friesland is the way it is. You can learn more about the sword of the famous Frisian hero Grutte Pier or the mysterious life and death of the dancer Mata Hari and discover the creation and development of the dikes in Friesland for the last 2000 years, probably the most interesting section of this floor. Explore 19th century paintings, pottery items, costumes, ancient findings and even a replica of the famous Hindeloopen room where you can discover the multicultural decoration style of this iconic Frisian city. There is so much diversity in this section that sometimes the desirable balance is lost and you find yourself struggling with all this information. Perhaps a second visit would be necessary.

The second floor offers a detailed account of the impact the Second World War had in Friesland. From a video installation that shows shortly the course of the war in the Netherlands with archival footage to the fascinating room full of stories from people who survived, this section will cause mixed feelings and force you to spend a considerable time exploring the video interviews of the survivors. There is also a database of every Jewish Frisian who either was killed or survived the war. Other sections of this floor introduce you to the Leeuwarden resistance, but also to other war exhibits. Treated with respect and care, this part can stand on its own, while it takes some distance from the rest of the museum exhibitions.

The entire third floor is dedicated to the fascinating textile work of contemporary artist Claudy Jongstra. You can discover her process and inspiration, but also her newest work: square, carpet-looking textiles that hang prominently from the ceiling. This part of the museum changes frequently, so there is always something new to explore (Alma Tadema’s exhibition is available from the 1st of October).

The personal exhibition of photographer Tjibbe Hooghiemstra, who creates dreamy and poetic photographic sequences, offers more diversity to the museum. Till the 30th of next month you can observe his view on our world via extreme close-ups of nature and multiple photographs of our universe. Repetition and deep blue colors dominate this beautiful exhibition.

Modern and full of pride, this museum aims also for an international audience, not only Frisian or Dutch. Every exhibit is described in Dutch or in Frisian and the portable English catalogs available in every floor prove priceless for internationals. Perhaps a more elaborate section for the Frisian language is what is missing. However, this museum is already a valuable Frisian cultural experience.

(This article was written on September 2016. Repost from the ExoDutch blog. )