At one point, Stallworth calls Klan headquarters to inquire about his membership card, and is shocked when KKK Grand Wizard himself, David Duke (still around today and a Donald Trump supporter), picks up the phone. The film depicts Duke as a more sartorially refined, articulate face of the Klan. He’s able to speak coherently about the supremacy of the white race (grammatically, that is—not logically), but he doesn’t even realize he’s saying all these things to a black undercover police detective on the other line.

Duke (played by Topher Grace) is too obsessed with his own bad ideas, and whether or not he’s communicating them effectively to a stranger, to grasp that he’s the butt end of one big joke. In fact, he’s so sure of himself and his understanding of what makes white and black people so different that he tells Stallworth he can always tell when he’s talking to a black man because they speak a certain way, pronounce the letter “R” with a special inflection he can spot a mile away. (This actually happened, according to the real Stallworth.)

If BlacKkKlansman is a comedy, its climax represents a stark tonal shift into righteous didacticism, one that’s totally earned. Lee connects the Confederacy of the 1860s to the KKK of the 1970s to the alt-right neo-Nazis of the present moment. Stallworth’s operation is just one small victory in an ongoing struggle, and Lee makes sure we leave the theater knowing that struggle is far from over.

Released on the one-year anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, BlacKkKlansman concludes with footage from that horrible day, a stark reminder that the type of white supremacists Ron Stallworth was able to bamboozle still endure. They’re right there, listlessly marching with dollar-store tiki torches, and ramming a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors, killing a woman.

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