This week I finally had a chance to watch Spike Lee’s 2018 film, BlacKkKlansman. It was excellent. While I’m not in a position to offer a full review of the film, there are a couple of spiritual themes that really resonated with me and that I want to point out:
- The first theme that stood out to me has to do with ideologies of violence and hate. Clearly a film about the KKK engages with the theme of hate-filled ideology. After all, what is the KKK if not that? What stood out to me in the film is how compellingly it demonstrates a fundamental truth about hateful ideologies of incitement. While these ideologies do real and irreparable harm to the targets or victims of the hate, they also do real and irreparable harm to those who hold the beliefs. BlacKkKlansman reminds us that hatred and violence can never be only other-directed. Eventually those who are filled with hate and turn to violence will find that they inflict their hate and violence on themselves, their communities, and their loved ones.
- The second theme that stood out to me has to do with intersectionality and coalition building. As a rabbi, my ears perked up when the character playing Stokley Carmichael/ Kwame Ture quoted the ancient Jewish sage, Hillel (“If I am not for myself who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?). More generally, the film reminds Jews and Blacks of the long period of time when Jews and Blacks united around Civil Rights and Social Justice. The two main protagonists of the film are, respectively, Black and Jewish. Their story lines, life experiences, and sense of justice intersect in important and authentic ways. They understand that racism directed against Blacks and anti-semitism directed against Jews are ultimately sibling expressions of a fundamentally hateful ideology. As many of the films viewers may not be aware of the rich history of Blacks and Jews joining together to fight institutional racism and ideologies of hate in America, the film does a service by honoring this narrative.