RP13: Violence, offensive language, sexual references and content that may disturb
This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.
BlacKkKlansman is a biographical crime drama from the United States, based on the autobiography Black Klansman. It follows Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Tired of working in records, he talks his boss into letting him go undercover. He is assigned to infiltrate a meeting of the Colorado College Black Students Union, at which former Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, now going by the name Kwame Ture, is speaking. After the success of this mission, Stallworth is transferred to Intelligence, where he and his Jewish colleague Flip go undercover to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth interacts with KKK leaders by phone, sending Flip to engage with them in person. Along the way, Stallworth falls for the Student Union president, Patrice.
Date registered: 27/07/2018
The film contains some sexual references – an incensed police officer tells Ron and Flip that their investigation is a mess, using phrases such as “jerkin’ my chain”, “reach around” and “circle jerk”. At one point a man jokes that he wouldn't shut Patrice up, “until I get those lips around my dick”. The film also contains an instance of sexual violence, which will be discussed under violence.
Crime and justice play a large part in the film. Ron is a police officer who is called to investigate potential threats to national security – such as the Black Students Union and the Ku Klux Klan – and some of the characters use violent rhetoric and conspire to commit terroristic acts.
Through these elements the film questions the nature of crime and justice. Ron’s relationship with Patrice is fraught as she believes that the police force (‘pigs’) is inherently racist and can only be a hindrance to the freedom and liberation of African Americans. Ron asks her if such institutions are able to be changed from within by people like himself. Patrice replies that it is not. This dialogue runs throughout the film and remains unresolved at its close.
The film also depicts scenes of police brutality and misconduct based on racial profiling. This is clearly criminal and will be discussed under violence, below.
Violence is often threatened in the film – characters point guns at one another, shoot at cars, and engage in violent rhetoric – however, these threats are rarely followed through.
The strongest depictions of violence are committed by the police. Early in the film some police officers pull Patrice, Kwame, and two members of the Student Union over with no justification and push them against their car. One of the police officers sexually assaults Patrice and her friend by groping them. The scene is tense but brief. Later, Ron, who is undercover, attempts to arrest a white woman (the wife of a KKK member) who has placed a bomb at Patrice’s house. The woman begins to struggle, screaming that Ron is trying to rape her. Two police officers arrive on the scene and tell Ron to put his hands up. Ron tells them that he is undercover, but the officers do not believe him and hit him in the gut with a baton. Ron falls to the ground. The police officers continue beating him; however, little of this is directly shown. Suddenly, the bomb explodes. An adjacent car is set alight and flipped on its back; three men are inside but their bodies are not seen.
The film also contains archival footage of violence from the Charlottesville rally in 2017 including footage from when a white nationalist drives into a group of counter-protestors, killing a young woman, and of violent clashes between people at the event. This footage is confronting and has a strong emotional impact on the viewer.
Violence is also referenced verbally in the film. An elderly man tells a historic story of a young black man who was lynched. He describes how the young man, who had an intellectual disability, was accused of rape by a white woman and then executed - his fingers were cut off, he was doused in oil and raised above flames. Photographs were taken of the execution and turned into postcards. Copies of these photographs are briefly shown however little detail can be made out. This story is intercut with a scene of Klan members watching D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, which increases the impact of the cruel and horrific violence being described.
The film deals extensively and to a high degree with depictions of racism, both overt and casual. At one point a group of Klansmen set a cross on fire. While these characters exhibit vile and racist attitudes and endorse eugenics, the film clearly places these attitudes as unacceptable.
Characters often use words such as “fuck” and “shit”, but also slurs such as “nigger”, “faggot”, and “cunt” (used specifically to dehumanise a Black woman while joking about forcing her to perform oral sex). Members of the KKK, as well as some police officers, use these kinds of racial slurs regularly to refer to black, gay, and Jewish people. These slurs are sometimes used as a derogative, and at other times as reclamation by members of those communities.
This kind of language is clearly contextualised into a film about racial and social attitudes that is against racism and prejudice. Ron, the main character, is an African-American police officer. The premise of the film is to take down a racist, white supremacist organisation as part of an extended dialogue around whether the criminal justice system is, in fact, just.
As such, while the language in the film is deeply problematic it is also extremely well-contextualised. Despite this, the dual nature of this offensive language requires a wider cultural understanding to critically analyse.
BlacKkKlansman is an undercover detective film about racism in the United States, punctuated by moments of dark comedy. It has strong sociopolitical merit, highlighting issues in the contemporary US political landscape, particularly around the tensions between the state and racial minorities more generally, which naturally spill into countries such as New Zealand due to the United States’ cultural capital and intense, technologically driven globalisation. Despite this, the dual nature of the highly offensive language, mostly around racial, ethnic, and gendered slurs, requires maturity and cultural understanding to critically analyse. Without this cultural context, the use of this kind of language is likely to negatively impact children’s socialisation in terms of how they conceive of this kind of language, and their understanding of when it is and isn’t appropriately used.
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