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Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’ Shocks CinemaCon, First Footage Reveals a KKK ‘Buddy Comedy’ No One Is Expecting

Lee will compete for the Palme d'Or at Cannes next month with the film, which stars John David Washington and Adam Driver.

Spike Lee

Spike Lee

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Before Spike Lee brings “BlacKkKlansman” to the Cannes Film Festival next month, he let CinemaCon debut the new movie’s first look. Focus Features’ premiere footage makes it clear that Lee is doing what he does best: Subverting genres and taking on a politically-charged story with his bracing comedic style.

“BlacKkKlansman” tells the true story of an African-American detective who infiltrated a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs and became one of its leaders. The film stars John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, in the lead role. The actor is best known for his role on HBO’s “Ballers,” and has a supporting turn in David Lowery’s upcoming “The Old Man and the Gun.”

“When I heard the name ‘Spike Lee’ and ‘true story,’ I was in right there,” Washington told press at CinemaCon. “I was hooked. There’s no sides or point of views. It’s just laid out: This is what happened.”

While some directors would envision the true story about the KKK as a drama, the footage at CinemaCon confirms Lee has made something of a buddy comedy featuring Washington’s detective, Ron Stallworth, and his partner Flip, played by Adam Driver. The tone was a shock but had the CinemaCon theater audibly laughing. Press took to social media afterwards to praise the humor and suggest “BlacKkKlansman” will be one of Lee’s funniest films to date.

John David Washington and Jason BlumFocus Features presentation, CinemaCon, Las Vegas, USA - 25 Apr 2018

“BlacKkKlansman” star John David Washington and producer Jason Blum
at Focus Features’ CinemaCon presentation

Rob Latour/REX/Shutterstock

The footage shows Stallworth putting in a call to KKK leader David Duke, played by Topher Grace (producer Jason Blum says you’ve never seen a Grace performance like this one). Stallworth creates a racist white persona over the phone and recruits the caucasian Flip to embody the fake person in the flesh while meeting with KKK members. Flip is equal parts confused by the plan and game to try whatever his partner suggests.

Despite the film’s 1970s period setting (Lee seems to be having a blast with the period-specific costumes), the footage makes it clear Lee is going for the jugular by making sure his themes are relevant to today’s race struggles. One striking scene depicts a KKK member addressing a group and declaring, “America first,” which had many in the theater at CinemaCon thinking about Trump. Lee isn’t going to shy away from depicting KKK iconography, as the footage is full of Klan shots. One character remarks: “Oh man, can you believe how fucked this all is.”

“There are very serious underpinnings in the movie, but we’re definitely shining a light on how stupid, how idiotic, how small minded and really what bozos the Ku Klux Klan are,” Blum said about the feature.

First reactions to the “BlacKkKlansman” footage were largely positive, with many press singling out the chemistry between Washington and Driver as something to watch for when the film premieres next month. The film’s comedic leanings took many by surprise, but it’s further proof you can never anticipate what Spike Lee has in store. Blum defending the humor by saying the film’s wacky tone is essential in communicating the absurdity of the KKK.

Check out first reactions below. “BlacKkKlansman” debates in competition at Cannes next month and will be released in theaters August 10.

Additional reporting by Jenna Marotta.

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