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Women's Roles in Spike Lee's Blackkklansman

September 1, 2018



Blackkklansman, directed by Spike Lee and starring John David Washington follows the true story of how Ron Stallworth, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. He successfully gets inside by sending his white colleague, played by Adam Driver, to act as his surrogate investigator. Based off the book written by the real Ron Stallworth, the film brilliantly and gut wrenchingly intertwines the racial complexities between black and white individuals, dating from the Civil War all the way to recent incidents in Charlottesville Virginia during 2017.


While the film primarily focuses on a male-driven perspective of race, the few female speaking roles play pivotal roles in forwarding the plot and revealing many differences amongst white women and black women, especially when pressure is put onto them by men. Connie Kendrickson and Patrice Dumas play more than just love interests in the film. They serve as heightened representations of two different racial and political perspectives. Connie represents the way in which white women perform in a white male-dominated society, and Patrice represents how black women behave in a white male-dominated society.


Besides the Klan itself, Connie serves as one of the film’s main villains. Immediately, Connie is introduced as subservient to her husband, Felix Kendrickson, the hot-headed member of Colorado Spring’s KKK chapter. She is exuberant for her hatred towards black people, constantly using racial slurs, yet does so in a typically polite manner, making her entire depiction fascinating to watch play out. During her first scene, she serves up food at one of the Klan’s meetings, sneakily listening in and offering advice on how to plot against the black people in town. She completely bypasses the basic act of social self-examination before speaking and jumping to the most extreme punishments. She passively accepts her husband's beliefs and adopts the same hateful philosophy,not taking time to thoroughly analyze the racist institution and social sphere she is in.


Since the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century, white wives in the United States stood by watching their husbands own and beat slaves. They allowed black bodies to do the work that made them comfortable and rich, even allowing black people raise their children. Many white women passively adopted the mindset of their husbands, seeing slaves as inferior animals. Even if certain white women had sympathy for their slaves, they were still property and something of monetary value.Connie is the embodiment of this perpetual culture of passive allowance for hatred.


White women have also frequently risen at the forefront in stories involving race, and are often seen as victims. For example, Lee uses the 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation,” to show how the engrained story of a white woman being taken advantage of by a black man became widespread across the country. Originally called “The Clansman,” the short film details the story of a free black man (played by a white man in black face) who approaches a white woman with a proposal for marriage. She gets frightened and jumps off of a cliff, killing herself. As a result, the KKK finds the man and lynches him. Since this story was developed and distributed, the perpetual stereotype of black men being aggressive predators spread, and the stereotype of white women being helpless victims spread as well.


Through Lee’s lense, the audience of “Blackkklansman” is able to see that Connie is not a victim. She is a true villain just like her male colleagues. From the outside world looking in, it can be easy to see women, especially those of a majority race as being attacked from outsiders. However, Connie uses this xenophobic view in her favor to hurt Ron and others of African descent. She calls Ron a rapist, even though he only jumped on her to prevent her exploding Patrice's home with a Connie planted.


On the complete opposite side of female voices in a battle for racial justice stands Patrice Dumas, Ron’s love interest in the film. She serves an Angela Davis type of role, being an activist for black liberation. Unlike Connie, she performs more as a real human being than as a pawn in backwoods America’s racist game of chess. While Connie wants to be equal to Felix in his hatred for black and Jewish people, Patrice wants to be better than Ron in the quest for equality and justice.


Patrice is willing to end her and Ron’s relationship based off of racial and political incongruencies. She is not willing to sit passively and watch as her black brothers and sisters are threatened– an act very different than that of Connie. As a cop, Ron’s fellow policeman are quick to turn on him and those who look like him, which is why when she finds out he is a cop she is ready to end it. Patrice does not do favors for men because how can she do their dirty work when she is fighting for her own life? She must preserve her right as a black woman, as part of a black family and part of a black community.


The black family unit has been fighting for a voice since the beginning of enslavement. Black men and children were worth more money because they could work harder and longer and were quickly taken away. Black wives and mothers continually were ripped apart from their loved one, watching as some random person took them away. Black women became stronger and more independent because they often had to. They had to deal with physical and emotional pain, all while working in favor of their masters. They learned to deal with other’s problems, while managing their own as well.


This collective unconscious of the strong Black American female mindset lingers through Patrice’s narrative. She is tough, resilient and completely willing to be independent. When Ron and Patrice finally end up together at the end of the film, they confront their greatest challenge together: facing the world as a black couple. The story end with the two of them getting a knock on the door. They pull out their guns, and when they open the door, clips of the KKK burning a cross appear on the screen. It is a reminder that even though they feel safe together, there is still and entire world consumed in hatred and discrimination.


That is an overarching theme of the film— how much the discriminatory state of the U.S. really has not progressed. As seen by the introduction of the film (civil war), middle of the film (1970s) and end of the film (2017), racism continues to burn within the country. While many parallels can be drawn between slavery and the characters in the film during the 1970s, several other parallels can be drawn between slavery and the present. Spike Lee brilliantly shows this at the ending of the film with raw video footage of riots in Charlottesville Virginia in 2017. He proves the point that the end is not even close and black people regardless of every age, sex or gender.


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