The volcanic laughter and outrageous applause I heard from an all-white all-woke audience illustrated how much we missed the point of Black KkKlansman.
Being a white male in 2018 is learning from a series of privilege checks. Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette forced us to re-examine our current relationships and the mistakes of our pasts, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a palatable examination of the division between minorities and us.
The danger in 2018, however, is assuming that you already know the lesson.
I was fortunate to see a pre-screening of the latter in Dendy Newtown. The audience was a hodge-podge of hand-me-down clothes, septum piercings and tortoiseshell glasses perched upon calm woke faces. In other words, my people. Everyone was white, and in the know.
That was the primary problem. The narrative told us what we already took as gospel. To clued-in white Australia, Spike presented the duh-obvious, something we’ve been waging comment box wars over, or solved through retweet activism since forever: Donald Trump is bad, he’s enabling the white supremacists, and they’re worse. There’s no room for that kind of racial division in this world.
As the lights dimmed, our collective white guilt manifested strangely. Never have I attended a showing that had such an active audience. The only other example I’ve lived through was a ripple of applause heard after the credits of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but this was different. It was unnatural. Every punchline was a riot, and every groan every after the white supremacists did white supremacist shit was orchestral. It was an audible eye roll made for the benefit of the person next to them, a gesture of these people aren’t us, and if some Nazis were here now, we’d register our disgust thusly.
All bullshit of course. We have Nazis openly in Australia, and our KKK wear the hood of the bureaucrat, not the bedsheet; they don’t burn crosses, they tick boxes. But, under the blanket of darkness in an Inner West cinema the truth cannot touch us. A collective nod is a powerful thing. When the credits rolled, the unison sound of people coming to their feet and raucously applauding boomed off the walls. In the bathroom line, someone loudly spoke for the benefit of whoever was listening, planting: “…and Trump was going to make America great again.”
The vibe was no shit, Sherlock. We know.
Beautifully, Spike gave the white audience no positive characters to attach themselves to. The only white character of virtue is Adam Driver and he’s playing a Jewish cop attempting to be white, because white people make it easier on him. Elsewhere, we have the cuck KKK head honcho David Duke, we have the resistant police chief who applauds the work, and then immediately buries it. The only other cop we got to know is a racist who openly hates the protagonist and sexually assaulted the love interest. The only other people we see up there that look like us is the KKK, it forces us to not blink. It’s why Spike Lee juxtaposes the Klan meeting with Birth of a Nation, the 1915 film that deals exclusively in black racial caricatures, and it’s why the audience laughed. We were distancing ourselves from history.
This kind of cognitive dissonance is particularly interesting when pitched to an Australian audience. It allows us to ignore our own racial past, because the plot wasn’t about that. It was about the KKK, it was about America’s problem. Have you seen What is America?
BlacKkKlansman is an accessible form of change. Spike said what we were thinking. However, we can simultaneously palm off the responsibility to the Americans to do something about it. It’s on them to carry Spike’s momentum. It was a gut punch, sure, but one we turned into, and one we turned into ‘a good night’.
The racist language, the iconography, and the documentary footage of the Charlottesville is all a question of what we can tolerate. Because the black guy won*, there’s a temptation to latch onto that as a positive force. An avenue of change, like Black Panther. An affirmation of blackness. That, however, is Spike’s point. The normalisation of racism is the lesson.
If we loudly agree, but use that as the extent of our change, we’re the problem.