BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

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Murdoch
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#26 Post by Murdoch » Sat Aug 11, 2018 9:02 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Sat Aug 11, 2018 1:00 am
Murdoch wrote:
Sat Aug 11, 2018 12:49 am
I enjoyed this a lot. There was one purposefully crowd-pleasing moment that felt unrealistic and forced:
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the racist cop going down in a quickly thrown-in sting operation, with the police chief and white cops celebrating with Stallworth as the cop's taken away, as if he were the one bad egg in a 70s Colorado police department.
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At that point I think Lee was deliberately building the audience up by trying to end the film as happily as possible, with as much good humor as he could muster. The very end wouldn't have felt like as much of a gut punch without such strange, shoehorned tying up of loose ends with as shaggy and gentle a tone as possible leading into it. Perhaps I am giving Lee too much credit for this juxtaposition, but I really think that his reasoning was somewhere along these lines, and it worked for me for that reason.
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I can see that although I think the real-life footage packs a punch alone. I don't know, it still felt too clean to me even with that juxtaposition and I would've been fine with Stallworth just giving the guy a punch to the face. And as much as I can see it as an intentional contrast, I also see Lee putting forward a sense of reslilient optimism with the last moments before the contemporary footage, that this problem isn't going away but good people taking a stand against hate will persevere.

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Brian C
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#27 Post by Brian C » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:50 am

That Vox review by Alissa Wilkinson is obnoxious, on three main counts:

1) The writer actually criticizes the movie for being "self-congratulatory", while she's going on and on about how "obvious" the movie's themes are. The only thing that's "obvious" is that she wants us to know that she's smart enough to have already known everything the film has to tell us. And what could be more self-congratulatory than that?

2) Her claims that it "lets white audiences off the hook" makes no sense - off the hook for what, exactly? Wouldn't you know it, she pretty much forgets to say. Disturbingly, she takes it as a given that a movie about race relations can only be successful if they make well-meaning liberals like her "uncomfortable". I don't find this kind of masochistic self-flagellation at all helpful; on the whole, I suspect morally vacuous white guilt like this does far more harm than good. You know what really lets white people off the hook? Letting them think that being "uncomfortable" about racism is a meaningful contribution to a just society. What narcissistic bullshit.

3) Her claim that the film "gives its white audience an out: Most any white audience member is going to find their avatar in these folks," (talking about the "good" white cops that are on Stallworth's team) seems like a bad misreading of the film to me. One of the big emotional centerpieces in the film is
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when Flip talks about his Jewishness, and laments that he always thought of himself as "just another white kid", or words to that effect. The disillusionment he feels is based on his heretofore-held assumption that he was superior to prosecuted minorities, which is definitionally racist.

So tell me how this lets any white audiences off the hook? It's a direct interrogation of white privilege, that the persecution of minorities goes largely unquestioned by whites - even good, decent people like Flip - because they're not subject to it and can live without the fear that is a given in the lives of those who are.
But presumably Wilkinson does not see this, because instead of Lee using this scene to harangue his audience to make them "uncomfortable" as she so craves, he treats Flip with compassion, and recognizes the decency in him. That's because there is - and always has been - a place at Lee's table for anyone of good faith. His cinema is an activist cinema, and often (justifiably, I hope it goes without saying) very angry, but it's one that's willing to take "yes" for an answer. I've always found a great faith in humanity in his films, despite the social ills that are at the root of so many of them.

In general, I thought this film was wonderfully rich in a way that all the great Lee films are. It's rich in the content of the debates between Stallworth and Patrice - both sides of which are shown great respect by the filmmakers - and how those debates are folded into the way Stallworth approaches his work. It's rich in its depiction of the Klan as an organization in transition between shifting political aims, and the way that the differing attitudes and motivations of the individual Klansmen are subtly shaded. It's rich in its cinematic style, no surprise with Lee; one scene that hasn't gotten a lot of publicity yet is the remarkable Kwame Ture speech scene, in which Lee finds a way to get across the radicalism of Ture's message for the time, which is probably lost today even by younger black audiences.

But perhaps it's richest in its historiography. It's clearly an urgent film about the times we find ourselves a part of right now in 2018, but told through a story set 40 years ago, which in turn traces its roots back to Birth of a Nation in 1915. It's an extraordinarily bold stroke of storytelling, and contra Wilkinson, it's a dramatic challenge to liberal complacency. We're not just in a moment now - or if we are, it's a moment that been going on for generations. So the question now is, as ever, who will do the right thing? And for that matter, what is the right thing in the first place?

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knives
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#28 Post by knives » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:34 am

Brian C wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:50 am
But presumably Wilkinson does not see this, because instead of Lee using this scene to harangue his audience to make them "uncomfortable" as she so craves, he treats Flip with compassion, and recognizes the decency in him. That's because there is - and always has been - a place at Lee's table for anyone of good faith. His cinema is an activist cinema, and often (justifiably, I hope it goes without saying) very angry, but it's one that's willing to take "yes" for an answer. I've always found a great faith in humanity in his films, despite the social ills that are at the root of so many of them.
More to highlight the obvious then anything else this description of Flip sounds an awful like how the Italian family is characterized in Do the Right Thing where they are a not quite white white ethnicity that implicitly and explicitly express racism, yet Lee does a lot of work to make sure they are three dimensional people that he has some respect for whether it is the talk between Lee and the youngest son or the look the father shares with Lee at the film's end. It clear Lee at least wants a world of mutual respect.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#29 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:41 am

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domino harvey
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#30 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:54 am

He also deleted this, which many people were quoting and rightly mocking (he still left up his addendum tweet though)

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#31 Post by mfunk9786 » Sun Aug 12, 2018 11:03 am

Loved this film but don't think his perspective is worthy of mocking outside of the unusual math about how long cop films have been made. One of the things about this film that makes it so compelling is that it tries to have it all with regard to its portrayal of the police, up to and including representing Riley's viewpoint through some characters. He's simplifying things a bit too much by saying they're portrayed as the "heroes," or frankly as any kind of effective force against racism. They're portrayed as a fish that stinks from the head.

He also had a lot of very kind things to say about Lee before going into the film and was talking about how badly he would like to meet him, and so at this point I would love to just be a fly on the wall for the two of them having a dialogue about it.

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Big Ben
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#32 Post by Big Ben » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:34 pm

Boots has been having a bit of a hard time lately for a variety of reasons. His film not selling outside the US is one of them. I imagine some of his chagrin is from that.

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hearthesilence
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#33 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:22 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 11:03 am
Loved this film but don't think his perspective is worthy of mocking outside of the unusual math about how long cop films have been made. One of the things about this film that makes it so compelling is that it tries to have it all with regard to its portrayal of the police, up to and including representing Riley's viewpoint through some characters. He's simplifying things a bit too much by saying they're portrayed as the "heroes," or frankly as any kind of effective force against racism. They're portrayed as a fish that stinks from the head.
Yeah, I was taken aback by that post now that I've seen the film. It really feels like a cheap dismissal that fails to get it. Seriously, did he really think Lee portrays the police as unequivocally "the most effective force against racism"?

And I have to say, watching this today (early in the afternoon here on the East Coast) really leaves one shaken. I had forgotten about the coda, having read about it months earlier. Given the date-stamp and then news reports reminding me what was about to happen a few hours after I left the theater, it's pretty harrowing.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#34 Post by Drucker » Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:37 pm

I've only seen one Lee film in full (I used to enjoy He Got Game on TV), so maybe there is a style here I will get more accustomed to once I visit his classic works, but to me this was a near miss. I agree with the comments about this being a messy film, and while it's frequently enjoyable and the individual performances are quite good, on the whole I guess it seemed forced.

Maybe Mfunk has a point and this is not a film for me, an active political organizer. But there was a tweet/sentiment after Trump got elected: "wow, imagine the art that will be created now!" But a lot of great political art, at least of the second half of the 20th century, is brave truth telling. Being against Vietnam, highlighting urban police violence, "Strange Fruit,"...I don't think it's a stretch to say that these were subversive/non-majoritian opinions. Even something recent like Rock Against Bush involves an artist taking a principled and less popular political stance. Beyond that, there is a truth in these songs being revealed. Without their voice amplifying the opposition, does it reach the masses in the same way?

That sort of art is a lot harder now. In addition to the economic realities of our times...if all of the mass media is concentrated on a subject, what role does the counter-culture have in raising issues? Is there really an audience invested in Spike Lee's films that doesn't know about Charlottesville, child prisons, or daily Trump stuff? I don't know. But I think the way the film went overboard to connect the events depicted with today's realities was over the top. Again, I fully acknowledge maybe this par for the course with Lee and I don't know it, but it seemed unnecessary to me, and more time on the events depicted in the story would have been welcome.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#35 Post by hearthesilence » Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:52 pm

Drucker wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:37 pm
But I think the way the film went overboard to connect the events depicted with today's realities was over the top.
Direct connections to current events is indeed a common feature in his work, so I'm not sure how you're going to feel about a lot of his films. It varies - there are films that are made in the midst of a news event (Get on the Bus during the Million Man March), period pieces like this which prominently use present-day footage for that reason (Malcolm X with Rodney King's beating) and most notably 25th Hour, a film that was the very first major production to be shot in NYC after 9/11. Lee incorporated those events into the film's context, and that did draw a bit of criticism from some quarters. But time seems to have served it well - I think it's rightly regarded as one of his masterpieces, and incorporating those events works powerfully in a film built around loss.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#36 Post by Drucker » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:08 pm

Does something this explicit exist in other films?
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The way he talks to the white sergeant and says "David Duke could never be president!?" to which the Sgt. replies "You're being naive."

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domino harvey
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#37 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:12 pm

Drucker, I don't know what your plans were for tomorrow, but doing anything that isn't watching Do the Right Thing will be a mistake

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Big Ben
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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#38 Post by Big Ben » Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:13 pm

domino harvey wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:12 pm
Drucker, I don't know what your plans were for tomorrow, but doing anything that isn't watching Do the Right Thing will be a mistake
I'll second this. Do the Right Thing was a formative film for me and is just as relevant now as it was when it was made.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#39 Post by aox » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:33 am

This blew me away. Outside of Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, this might be his best film. There are some on the nose moments, and the two plot lines getting wrapped up so quickly within a minute of each other seemed rushed, but this is a triumph. I really dug Lee's use of Judaism as a juxtaposition too.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#40 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:49 am

I haven't seen Malcolm X in years, but I found it pretty dry and a little bit disappointing given some of the praise heaped on it. What's fascinating is that BlacKkKlansman has even less period feel than Malcolm X, and yet it felt much more immediate to me - it probably has more to do with the nature of activist filmmaking and the times that surround them, but BlacKkKlansman just felt more alive with a moral passion that felt more connected to the present.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#41 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:19 am

Drucker wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:37 pm
I've only seen one Lee film in full (I used to enjoy He Got Game on TV), so maybe there is a style here I will get more accustomed to once I visit his classic works, but to me this was a near miss. I agree with the comments about this being a messy film, and while it's frequently enjoyable and the individual performances are quite good, on the whole I guess it seemed forced.
Drucker, separate from the activist elements, how did the interrogation of film history (Gone With The Wind, Tarzan, Birth of a Nation, etc.) strike you? That's a recurring motif in Lee's work, and if that was more intriguing than the direct political commentary, you might seek out some of his work that operates more in that lane, like Bamboozled.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#42 Post by knives » Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:39 am

Bamboozled is uniquely great, though its best moment is directly lifted from Marlon Riggs.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#43 Post by Drucker » Mon Aug 13, 2018 12:18 pm

DarkImbecile wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 11:19 am
Drucker wrote:
Sun Aug 12, 2018 9:37 pm
I've only seen one Lee film in full (I used to enjoy He Got Game on TV), so maybe there is a style here I will get more accustomed to once I visit his classic works, but to me this was a near miss. I agree with the comments about this being a messy film, and while it's frequently enjoyable and the individual performances are quite good, on the whole I guess it seemed forced.
Drucker, separate from the activist elements, how did the interrogation of film history (Gone With The Wind, Tarzan, Birth of a Nation, etc.) strike you? That's a recurring motif in Lee's work, and if that was more intriguing than the direct political commentary, you might seek out some of his work that operates more in that lane, like Bamboozled.
GWTW was a bit shoehorned in since it was right at the beginning, but the use of Birth of a Nation was fantastic. Actually that whole scene with the theater screening was really great. That did an excellent job of linking current political events to historic injustice.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#44 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Aug 13, 2018 2:10 pm

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That 'the ingenuity of white women!!' line during the Birth of a Nation screening struck me as a direct reference to the percentage of them that voted for Donald Trump.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#45 Post by Drucker » Mon Aug 13, 2018 2:34 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:
Mon Aug 13, 2018 2:10 pm
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That 'the ingenuity of white women!!' line during the Birth of a Nation screening struck me as a direct reference to the percentage of them that voted for Donald Trump.
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Agreed! My problem with it is mostly about 1) the ending and 2) the "Americans would never elect David Duke" because come on.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#46 Post by McCrutchy » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:23 pm

I also really enjoyed this. The acting is pretty excellent from the leads, but I did sense that
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the romance felt out of place, and I'm kind of surprised Lee shoehorned it in there with a portmanteau female character. Perhaps because everything else felt so real, including other things Lee invented like Driver's undercover cop being Jewish, that's why the romance, and really the Dumas character, felt a little too good to be true, especially given the absurdity of this all taking place, and her not being able to figure out that Stallworth was a cop. I liked the inclusion of the student society and of Stallworth undercover at the Ture lecture, but I feel like Lee could have included those events first as he does, and then kept to the historical record and moved the rest of the story up to its real setting of 1979, while adding a similar kind of (fictional, if necessary) love interest. Then in keeping the student society, you could also keep the great Harry Belafonte scene about the murder of Jesse Washington, but not have the student activists otherwise collide with the plot so unnaturally. The one scene I didn't really believe was the one where they screened The Birth of a Nation at the end of the KKK meeting. I have trouble believing that a 1972 audience of not-exactly-intellectual white supremacists would sit and (loudly) watch an entire 193-minute silent film, KKK or no KKK, and while I'm sure the film generally wasn't that long in 1972, I'm sure it was still over well two hours, and for a generation used to sound and color, I would envision them being bored, not enthralled.

However, Washington, Driver and Grace are all at the top of their game. Grace is particularly amazing as one of the most realistic-seeming white supremacist leaders I have ever seen put on film--it would have been so easy to make him something of a caricature, like the Felix character but worse (which is what I was expecting), but instead Grace and Lee make sure to show Duke as a very real person, and it becomes clear how he could have ascended to a leadership position in the KKK and in his own community. Driver, playing someone who is at the mercy of both the Klan, and perhaps even Stallworth's own idealism, imbues his undercover Jewish cop character Flip with a quiet grace, and it's hard to not cheer for him as he verbally jousts with racists who would kill him if they knew who he really was. But it's Washington, delivering a great, almost dual performance as the "real" Ron Stallworth and the "white Ron Stallworth", who anchors the film, and I hope the Academy notices. It's not often that a character is both the heart and soul of a film, the protagonist of its plot, and the source of virtually all of the much-needed humor in it, but Washington somehow pulls this off. He seems to float through the film effortlessly, managing to make the Stallworth character equal or even superior to everyone in the room, even when for example, the rookie Stallworth is being chewed out by his police chief. Washington really makes you feel that Stallworth could have pulled everything off, even in his unenviable position as the first black police officer in his department, and this keeps the film from being bogged down too much by the thought of him possibly failing. That means it's easier to focus on the horrific behavior of the white supremacist characters, especially how they seem to keep re-indoctrinating one another (e.g. Felix and his wife) to quash any feelings of guilt or concerns about whether they are doing the right thing. And that target practice scene, where the targets are eventually revealed to be young black boys running away, was one of the film's most effective chilling little moments.
That said, I think the best part of the film, the part where I wanted to cheer because I was so happy Lee included it, was
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the transition from the happy ending of the entertaining, Hollywoodized 1970s-set story to the very real video news footage from just last year. Including all of the most uncomfortable shots of cars running into the crowds and Trump's pathetic, mock-worthy appraisal of the situation along with footage of the real David Duke, and a tribute to Heather Heyer, the girl who was run over and killed. The bit with the flag might have been a tad much, just like the Gone with the Wind footage (which I think was dubbed-over?) may have been a tad much, but
overall, this was an entertaining, fascinating, funny and generally excellent film that should hopefully resonate for a large audience and do very well.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#47 Post by Cde. » Mon Aug 13, 2018 7:52 pm

There are some great touches throughout (the Ture talk, which I felt was the high point, as well as the disco scene, Driver reconsidering his Jewishness, Belafonte vs BOAN) but the film is limited by its skin-deep and often cartoonish depiction of the Klan. I don't think the tonal switching between broad comparisons between the Klan and Trump (Nick Pinkerton put it well in his excellent review that these over-obvious gags 'seek to flatter an audience for its present-day vantage') and direct to audience lectures works, and while the coda was very upsetting I felt like it wasn't earned by the very stylistically safe and Hollywoodized film that proceeded it.
Last edited by Cde. on Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#48 Post by Big Ben » Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:24 pm

Having known an actual Klan member I can tell you the organization consists mostly of of many folks who feel incredibly disenfranchised by their life and who are manipulated into hatred by much more intelligent ones. There isn't any psychology at play that's any different than say, a cult. An authoritarian vessel collects the hatred of his flock and projects them onto an idea or group of people. The Klan, at it's most basic level is nothing more than that. While yes, the individual lives of it's members are three dimensional the mission of the Klan is not. It's a bunch of violent people who justify their actions through the asinine belief that being white offers them vindication for their crimes against minorities. And yes, sometimes God is added into the mix so that vindication becomes absolution as well. I haven't seen the film yet but I don't think it's disingenuous to portray the Klan as buffoonish because as whole that's exactly what they are.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#49 Post by DeprongMori » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:25 pm

McCrutchy, I doubt the Klan in general ever watched more than the equivalent of “the highlights reel” of BoaN. They almost certainly were not sitting through the fully restored film with historical commentary by Kevin Brownlow. Screenings of BoaN in KKK recruitment is well documented and is not Spike Lee’s invention.

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Re: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

#50 Post by Brian C » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:26 pm

Honestly, I don't really even see the Klansmen as portrayed as "buffoonish", much less cartoonish. I feel like Walter especially is like a lot of people I've known - he's perhaps not super bright, but friendly towards and trusting of the people he likes, except that if the conversation turns a certain way you realize that there's a lot of darkness in there. But if you didn't know he was the head the local chapter of the KKK, he'd probably seem like an all right guy. I thought the portrayal of him was very nuanced and complex.

The only moment I can think of that paints Felix as a buffoon is when he mispronounces "circumcised". Other than that, he's (justifiably) suspicious of "Stallworth" from the start, understands correctly that Walter is more talk than action, and fails in his bomb plot more due to some (from his perspective) bad breaks than any actual design flaws in his plan.

I guess Ivanhoe is portrayed as a dunce, but again, guys like him seem common enough in the world to me. Hell, I'm sure we've all even met guys like this who were actually relatively well-educated - the guys that never quite got over not being the life of the frat house. Ivanhoe probably didn't go to college, but still, the personality type is very easily recognizable to me.

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