Is America racist?
Spike Lee seems to think so. At least, that’s the impression one gets from his latest film, BlacKkKlansman. Of course, Lee doesn’t have any real proof to back up that claim—
— and that’s precisely why this film is so powerful.
The narrative Element of Unproven drives the conflict of KkKlansman. It fuels hatred. It feeds ignorance. It powers an investigation that turns violent.
Unproven describes an understanding suspected to be true but not substantiated enough to call it fact
That watchful eye on what has yet to be verified is the soul of this narrative. The film’s brutal final moments only confirm America’s failure to verify rampant racism.
With BlacKkKlansman, Spike Lee proves that America is racist by focusing on that which is Unproven.
Understanding the Unproven
I never fully understood the narrative Element of Unproven until I saw this film. Visualizing the unverified as a Source of Conflict always left me searching for answers.
It’s important to understand that Unproven is not merely the negative of Proven. It’s not a lack of proof or false proof. Instead, Unproven defines that motivating force that intuits an imbalance—a singling out, or an itch—that drives one to seek resolution because something is specifically unverified. It’s that knowing without needing evidence to back that knowledge up.
With Causes, you can trace a single line back to the root “cause” of a problem. You can see the proof.
When looking to Effects, there is no direct line back to something, yet there is still a problem. Something unproven as of yet. It’s that same feeling one gets when considering the effects of conflict that courses beneath the lifestream of Unproven.
A notion that something is not right.
Witnessing Both the Subjective and Objective
With KkKlansman, Lee expertly plays both sides of Unproven. Externally—and objectively—he explores the covert racism of the Klan and the unwillingness of many to do anything about it. Internally—and subjectively—he explores the naïveté of Colorado’s first black cop, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington).
Ron’s notion that “Not all cops are bad” seeks to write-off lousy behavior because it is Unproven. It amplifies and magnifies the suffering by relying on the unverified to determine right or wrong.
Only someone driven by the intolerable—someone who sees the disparity and is ready and willing to call others out on their willful blindness—can unseat this deep-seated justification.
With Ron, that point-of-view rests within Patrice (Laura Harrier).
The Influence Character
The Influence Character of a narrative challenges the Main Character to rethink his personal biases. Often coming from a seemingly alien point-of-view—yet always knowing just what to say at the right time—the Influence Character upends the Main Character’s inertia by shining a light on heretofore hidden preconceptions.
Patrice’s point-of-view challenges Ron by always looking to the results of looking the other way: This is what we get, and this is what will happen if we don’t do something. And it’s not merely a point-of-view that rests solely within Patrice. The very moving portrayal of the results of The Birth of a Nation carries this sad fact of reality straight to the heart.
Doing your part and engaging in the process of elevating the conversation becomes the only meaningful response. This is how Patrice is able to challenge and influence Ron to grow beyond his preconceptions. Patrice's point-of-view on valuing Black America works as the fulcrum to dislodge Ron’s limited perspective.
The Relationship Story
When making an argument, it’s not enough to just put two competing points-of-view against each other. Besides witnessing the two approaches at work within the light of an overall context (the Objective Story), the narrative must also explore the relationship that exists between the two opposing forces.
You maintain your personal problems. Your spouse experiences her own. Your marriage carries an entirely different set of conflicts outside of individual concerns. Yes, the personal points-of-view influence and inform the friction within the relationship—but they are not the relationship.
Ron and Patrice strike up an unlikely bond. At the heart of it rests an imbalance of continuation—the idea that they keep running into each other and feel driven to maintain their friendship fuels their interactions.
Ron and Patrice work as a proxy for the relationship that exists between the naive and the vigilant. An imbalance of wisdom between the two results in a cautious bond that starts and stops starts and stops.
It’s only when the vigilant can no longer “hang”—and the two split—that the relationship finally finds its inevitable conclusion.
Dysfunction in Society
BlacKkKlansman is a dysfunctional dark comedy. The twisted psychologies that lead to mail bombs and secret societies blame the assumed results of not taking action as impossible to avoid. An “integrated” America is the outcome they seek to prevent by burning crosses and processing meaningless IDs.
In the end, America fails to change its essential nature. Though they managed to prove one single cop’s tendency towards prejudice, the system and the Klan go unpunished. Burn the evidence, destroy the proof, and learn to deal with the consequences of allowing the unverified to persist deep beneath the surface—
—consequences of failure that erupt into violent action in August of 2017.
Yet, BlacKkKlansman is also a story of Personal Triumph. While the conflict in the overall scheme of things remains unresolved, Ron himself finds relative peace. No longer content to hide behind the phone and his white alter-ego, he calls David Duke and boldly verifies the reality of Ron Stallworth’s true identity: a man who doesn’t have to hide—a man willing to show his true color(s).
Essential Storypoints Supporting the Narrative
The following are critical Storypoints found within the storyform for BlacKkKlansman:
A Personal Triumph consists of two Dynamic Storypoints: a Story Outcome of Failure and a Story Judgment of Good. It’s Good because Ron feels comfortable in his own skin. It’s a Failure because of those scenes at the end in August of 2017.
When an argument seeks to make a case for Failure, the Consequences persist. The Story Goal of BlacKkKlansman is Being, the Story Consequence is Doing. This can be interpreted as the balance between who we are and what we do.
By failing to prove the Klan's hidden influence (an Objective Story Solution of Proven), America gets to keep its identity. Lee contends that if Ron’s investigation, and countless other items of racism, had been brought to the surface and Proven—then America would have to act differently (a Story Goal of Being).
That didn’t happen.
And it continues not to happen.
The “proof” is the video footage of Americans running over other Americans—a genuine Consequence of Doing.
Lee is apparently done with us—as evidenced by the shattering of the relationship between Audience and filmmaker, between the naive and the vigilant. That fantasy sequence at the end shatters expectations, breaking the unbroken bond of trust between Author and Audience.
And it's all on purpose.
Lee can no longer "hang" with us—a Relationship Story Solution of Ending that both supports his narrative argument and leaves us with the task of doing something about it.
It's our turn to prove that there is a problem.