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Spike Lee’s, 61, reputation as a vivid portrayer of black neighborhoods, politics and culture reached the cold corners of Finland already in the 1990s with movies like Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X and Clockers.
Since then, while being constantly productive, Lee has been looking for the next big hit. In 2006, he succeeded with Inside Man, starring the great Denzel Washington.
After 12 years, he hits a career-defining jackpot.
BlacKkKlansman tells a story of a black police officer, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who manages to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan gang in the city of Colorado in the 1970s. It’s based on true events, but Lee has seasoned it with some fo’ real funny shit.
To pull this one off for the silver screen, Lee—who is known for working with the same actors over and over again—decided to recruit new talent.
Including one from Finland.
Jasper Pääkkönen, 38, was 15 when his father took him to see Clockers in a movie theater in Manhattan. He calls the experience “magical,” for a “saggy-pants-dreadlock-haired teenager from Finland.”
Four years later Pääkkönen started becoming popular in a Finnish daily soap opera Salatut Elämät (Concealed Lives). He played Saku, a young man, who became known for dramatic accidents, problems with the police and for his troubled relationships. Arguably, he was one of the most popular characters in the series before leaving in 2002.
Since then, Pääkkönen has made a fine career in several Finnish movies, including Dome Karukoski’s Leijonasydän (Heart of a Lion) in 2013, where he played Harri, a devoted neo-Nazi.
His international fame started to grow in 2015 when he was cast as Halfdan the Black in the fourth season of the popular TV series, Vikings.
Pääkkönen auditioned for BlacKkKlansman in New York last summer. According to Pääkkönen, he felt funny—coming from Finland and all—while watching big-name actors sitting next to him in the audition room while he was nibbling at Sisu pastilles.
Pääkkönen nailed the role, and he was welcomed to the cast alongside Adam Driver, known best for his role as Kylo Ren in the new Star Wars series and Laura Harrier, the date of Spiderman.
In BlacKkKlansman, Pääkkönen successfully combines the stubbornness of Harri and the maniac glare of Halfdan the Black. Throughout the movie, from sequence to sequence, Pääkkönen looks batshit crazy while portraying Felix Kendrickson, a devoted member of the KKK. Kendrickson’s hillbilly accent is also worth noting as Pääkkönen manages to pull it off throughout the movie.
The juxtaposition of KKK against the Colorado police force, with characters such as Flip Zimmerman, played by Driver, and the absolute driver of the movie, Stallworth, played by Denzel Washington’s son, is an example of comedy masterclass that will be viewed by film students in 2050, just like Lee as a young film student had to watch a Birth Of A Nation from 1915—considered a touchstone for technical innovation and cinematic technique—but that was used as a recruiting tool for the KKK.
After the piss and vinegar experience, Lee made a riposte, a short satire The Answer, where a young black screenwriter gets hired to write a Birth Of A Nation remake.
In result, Lee was kicked out of the film school, only to be reinstated by his obsessed work rate in the equipment room.
BlacKkKlansman was inspired by the growing tension between immigrants and natives and recent riots between bigots and colored people, such as the one in the US city of Charlottesville in 2017, where people were killed. The US President Donald Trump’s infamous speech where he said that there were “very fine people on both sides” may have been the last straw for Lee.
In result, we get to enjoy BlacKkKlansman that at its best could help to create a more peaceful world and at its worst keeps people laughing for the most part of the 135 minutes and gives them some food for thought for their way home and beyond.
‘BlacKkKlansman’ premieres in cinemas August 10.