November 14, 2013

Movie Review: The Black Klansman (1966)

The name Ted V. Mikels probably does not mean all that much to the majority of you. That's fine. In most cases it is not really a name I would expect you to know. Mikels is a writer/director who specialized in low budget, exploitative, B-movies. He is best known for Astro Zombies and The Corpse Grinders. Don't know those either? Again, that's fine. Frankly, I am not sure how I really feel about Mikels output. Still, I think I stumbled across this one at the right time. The Black Klansman (aka I Crossed the Color Barrier) is a daring, for the time, blend of social commentary and blaxploitation (before blaxploitation was a thing) about blacks and whites that live in shades of grey.

What makes this movie a timely discovery is that just the other day I was watching this video someone shared on Facebook about a teacher who specializes in diversity training and her rather unconventional methods. Now, this did not show a whole lesson, but it was interesting how she would split people up based on eye color and proceed to push buttons and essentially discriminate and belittle to the breaking point and then go a step further to drive it home. Essentially, she showed how white people can change their appearance, clothes, etc., to be accepted at large while African-Americans and other people of color cannot change their skin. Also, how we need to accept and celebrate our differences, and saying you don't see color is stealing someones identity. It was interesting stuff on perspective.

Anyway, The Black Klansman came out in 1966 and was set at the time the Civil Rights Bill was passed. We begin in LA, there are riots and we meet Jerry Ellsworth (Richard Gilden), a light skinned black (although the actor is actually white) jazz musician with a white girlfriend. He is getting ready to perform while avoiding the dangers of the riots. Across the country, in a small Alabama town, a young man decides to test the new law by going to have a coffee at a white diner. Of course, it does not go well.

That night the local Klan puts on their hoods, shoots the young man and then firebombs a church with a black congregation. The firebombing adds to the death toll, a young girl gets caught in the bomb and dies. They go to the police, but they are as racist as the Klansmen. Two things happen, one of the more hot headed church members call in support from a violence inciting Harlem gangster, and a call is placed to Jerry.

You see, the little girl was Jerry's daughter. He decides to use his light complexion to take on an alternate identity and go undercover in the Alabama Klan. He wants to have revenge for the death of his daughter, so, with the help of a wig, he heads to Alabama as a white guy. He makes his way to the local leader and is able to get into the inner circle. Once inside, he exacts his revenge.

It is a pretty interesting movie. It may be a bit talky at times and drag a little, but there is something daring about it. It does not seem like the kind of movie you would see at the time. It makes me wish we still had more of a low budget outlet for movies made on the cheap. This really takes an interesting look at the state of civil rights at the time and how not everyone is purely good or bad, well, the KKK are bad, but look at Jerry's reaction when he learns of his daughter's death, or the bartender when the gangsters show up.

This is not what I would call a great movie, but it is certainly is a worthy one. It definitely falls on the exploitative side of the coin, but it also contains some interesting social commentary. The acting is generally weak and the screenplay is not great, but it is more than watchable and makes me wonder how it was received back when it came out.


Related Posts with Thumbnails


Post a Comment