First impressions: ‘BlacKkKlansman’ (2018)

I’ve done a few “first impressions” series of posts over the years, which focus on more current films that I have watched in theaters that include reel librarians and/or library or archives scenes. The resulting “first impressions” posts are necessarily less detailed, as I don’t have the luxury of rewatching scenes and taking notes, but they turn out to be some of my more consistently popular posts.

A little over a month ago, I was able to watch Spike Lee’s latest film, BlacKkKlansman, at The Grand Cinema, which is an awesome, independent, arthouse-type movie theater in Tacoma. The film is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, and John David Washington (the son of Denzel Washington and Pauletta Washington) is perfectly cast in the title role.

Basic plot and trailer

In the early 1970s, Stallworth is hired as the first black officer in the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Initially assigned to work in the records room, he requests a transfer to go undercover and gets reassigned to the intelligence division. While reading the newspaper, he finds an advertisement to join the Ku Klux Klan. He calls and pretends to be a white man, and eventually becomes a member of the Colorado Springs chapter. Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) acts as Stallworth in order to meet the KKK members in person.

This is a film that punches you in the gut, and keeps you thinking and feeling and reacting. It is VERY timely. Highly recommended.

Below is a trailer for the film:

BLACKkKLANSMAN – Official Trailer [HD] – In Theaters August 10,” Focus Features, Standard YouTube License

So what does this film have to do with reel librarians?

Records room scenes

As mentioned in the summary above, Stallworth is initially assigned to work in the records room. There is a small nameplate on the front of the shelving units that says “Records librarian” (which is visible in the screenshot below), although the records room is essentially the archives of the police department. Stallworth is really bored working in the records room, and it’s clear that the records room is like a “right of passage” for rookie cops. It’s not a prestigious job, and the “real” cops look down on their co-workers stuck behind the desk.

(Never mind that detectives could NOT do their jobs or background research without those records and archival materials, and someone to help them locate those records, but WHATEVER. SIGH. >( )

There are two major scenes set in the records room, scenes in which Stallworth endures racial slurs and harassment from his co-workers, particularly from patrolman Andy Landers, a corrupt, racist officer in Stallworth’s precinct. Stallworth lets out some steam after his initial encounter with Landers, as seen in this screenshot from the above trailer:

Screenshot from 'BlackkKlansman' (2018) trailer

Don’t mess with records librarians!

We also see another records room officer, played by Jeremy J. Nelson, in one of the records room scenes.

Library research scene

There is also a very brief scene — perhaps two-thirds of the way through the movie? — where the president of the Black Student Union (Laura Harrier as Patrice Dumas) goes to what looks to be an academic library and looks up microfiche. In that brief library research scene, you can catch a glimpse of a reel librarian, played by Elise Hudson, who helps set up the microfiche machine for Patrice.

Patrice is researching materials and photos for an upcoming speaker (Harry Belafonte as Jerome Turner), and in a later scene featuring Turner’s moving speech, you see the archival photos she found and used displayed around him.

Final thoughts

Reflecting on BlacKkKlansman, I realized that this film falls into the Class II category, films in which the protagonist or other major characters are librarians, but the librarian’s occupation does not directly affect the plot. This is because John Stallworth, the lead character, worked as a “records librarian” — but more accurately, the records archivist. I would say his character reflects the “Liberated Librarian” character type pretty well, as he is literally liberated from the Records Room and promoted into the intelligence division.

There are two other reel librarians/archivists in the film as well, Jeremy J. Nelson as another Records Room Officer and Elise Hudson as a (more traditional) librarian, although we only see them collectively for a few seconds on screen. They function as your basic Information Providers, there to establish the library/archives settings of specific scenes.

Want more “first impressions”?

Sources used

  • BlacKkKlansman. Dir. Spike Lee. Perf. John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier. Focus Features, 2018. Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth.
  • BlacKkKlansman,” Wikipedia, is licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.
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