Spike Lee Made BlacKkKlansman A Comedy Because Of Six Specific Words

Blackkklansman John David Washington Ron Stalworth holding binoculars

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman stands as one of the best movies of 2018, and part of what makes it so fascinating is its approach to tone. The film deals with serious issues (like racism, terrorism, and social change) that are as present in our current world as they were during the featured time period, but it notably tackles them with a comedic bent and great wit. While the story could have potentially been told many ways, it's ultimately very much a comedy -- and it was an approach that the director cemented as soon as he heard the high concept pitch from producer Jordan Peele:

It was inherit in the premise. Jordan Peele pitched me this in six words: Black man infiltrates the Klu Klux Klan. I would use the word absurd. The absurdity and the humor is there because it comes from the pitch.

The subject of BlacKkKlansman's tone was the first that came up when I had the immense pleasure of recently hopping on the phone with Spike Lee to talk with him about his movie. I inquired if the approach was something that had to be slowly carved out, and had possibly gone through evolution from its earliest development, but that apparently wasn't the case. Lee knew it was going to be a comedy as soon as he heard Jordan Peele's six-word pitch and recognized the immense absurdity in the tale.

Of course, what only makes the story crazier is that it's based on a true story -- the epitome of "stranger than fiction." Ron Stallworth, as portrayed by John David Washington in the film, was a real Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer who successfully orchestrated an undercover operation that saw him become a card-carrying member of the Klu Klux Klan. It's a movie that certainly has its serious dramatic moments (including the brilliant gut-punch ending), but a smart script by Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, and a fantastic ensemble cast make it more often than not a riot.

Fans of Spike Lee will be quick to note that this isn't the first time that the filmmaker has approached darker stories that feature big laughs -- and Lee also made a point of it during the interview. While BlacKkKlansman is special in its own right, the writer/director has used the tonal approach in the past to fuel some of his best work. He explained,

I've done it before. Do The Right Thing is very serious subject matter, so was Malcolm X, and there's a lot of humor in both of those films. They had the same editor, Barry Alexander Brown, great editor. So, we've done it before, and it's been done before that! One of my favorite films is Dr. Strangelove, and what could be more serious than the extinction of humanity!

After a popular theatrical release during the summer, BlacKkKlansman is now coming back into conversation not only because of award season, but because of its new home video release. Fans and first timers can now find the movie available at their local retailers on digital, Blu-ray and DVD. Pick up a copy, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend as we wait to see the trophies it manages to wrangle in the coming months.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.