There is a case to be made that black people in America were never fully emancipated in the first place. That slavery just looks different now than it did in the years before 1865.
That instead of cotton fields and plantations, we have private prisons with which to enslave. That the colour of ones skin can and still does mean that that person, unless that colour is white, will be subjected to prejudices lighter skinned Americans won't.
There is also a case to be made that segregation still exists. Particularly in places like Chicago, where there are very definite white parts of town and black parts of town, and you could almost draw a line down the middle of the city that separates the two.
Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is a good example of just how little things have changed for dark skinned men and women since the 13th amendment.
Here we have Ron Stalworth, the first black cop in the Colorado Springs Police Department (the movie takes place in the early 70's). Being the first black anything is almost always a surefire way to gauge the level of racial prejudice of the group you are dealing with.
Stalworth is treated like shit by some of his coworkers, and his boss seems to enjoy reminding him to 'be like Jackie Robinson', meaning when people are being racist, just take it. Don't fight back.
Stalworth does, and works his way up into an undercover role, first infiltrating a Black Panther type gathering in Colorado Springs that has the police worried about violent protests. Then, later, infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.
Only about half of this movie is from the book it's based on. It's true Stalworth infiltrated the KKK, with the help of his white partner, who posed as Stalworth in face to face meetings with the Klansmen. But the entire third act of this movie was not in the book. And there is a love story involving a protestor Ron gets involved with that isn't in it either.
But this is Hollywood and Spike Lee is trying to tell a story, not give a play by play of factual events related to the case.
My biggest problem with this movie is that its tone is all over the place. I get what Spike was trying to do. I get that when you're telling a dramatic story about supremely hateful people (the KKK, not Stalworth), you need to crack the tension every once in a while with some levity. But it feels like BlacKkKlansman doesn't know whether it wants to be a comedy, a study in racism, an expose, or a straight dramatic thriller. It attempts to juggle all of these balls simultaneously, and there are times when the balls drop and you can hear the thud.
That being said, the movie is well made. It looks slick and is filled with the kinds of artistic flourishes anyone familiar with Lee's work will recognize immediately.
The commentary it's making, on racism, on David Duke and the KKK, on the treatment of African Americans as second class citizens, hits. I spent most of the movie fuming in my seat. The rage that built in me over the course of the film, towards these Klan boneheads, but more specifically towards white on black racism in general, left me feeling emotionally exhausted by the end.
I wish a movie like BlacKkKlansman was a fairytale. I wish we could watch a movie like this and say, 'thank God it's not like that anymore'. I wish we could look around and applaud ourselves and applaud our neighbours for how far we've come, since the 70's, and since the late 1800's. But can we? Can we honestly say that black and white skinned people are treated the same in 2018? The KKK still exists. Most privatized prisons in America are filled with black people. And some cities are still pushing black people out of white neighbourhoods.
I guess the sad truth about BlacKkKlansman is just that. That it's the sad truth. And despite all the levity, that makes this a very hard movie to watch.