Spike Lee’s new film BlacKkKlansman tells the tale of Ron Stallworth, a young African American police detective who, in the 1970s, managed to infiltrate the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, simply by pretending to be white on the telephone.
With a white detective (Adam Driver) pretending to be him at physical Klan meetings and a carefully cultivated attitude of faux-racism, Stallworth’s gambit was so successful that he even fooled KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace).
It’s a hell of a story and, what’s more, it’s true – and here to give us the inside scoop on what happened is the actual Ron Stallworth, now happily retired but more than happy to tell us all about it…
How well does the film BlacKkKlansman reflect your real life experiences?
I loved the movie. Spike did a masterful job in my opinion. John David Washington was a very polite, respectful, personable young man, and he did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the 25 year old me. Adam Driver did an excellent job portraying the character Flip, who in my book is named Chuck. Everybody did a wonderful job. Corey Hawkins as Stokely Carmichael – Kwame Ture – was off the charts, Laura Harrier played a version of Angela Davis very well. I love all the performances in the movie. And Topher Grace – I can’t say enough about how wonderful Topher Grace’s performance was as David Duke. In some areas he actually sounds like David Duke.
The movie follows my story to a certain degree – like most things in Hollywood, they took a few liberties which I knew about, and the liberties they took work for the story. I love it – I really do.
Is there anything, any element, that didn’t make it to the film that you wish had been retained?
Nothing that was left out. If anything, I wish they’d done more focus on the Progressive Labor Party aspect of my book – the people that were counter-protesting the Klan. My book is about two undercover investigations going on simultaneously: the KKK and the Progressive Labor Party. Today, the Progressive Labor Party would be the Antifa that you see and read about. People naturally just want to focus on the KKK aspect of it, but the PLP aspect of it was very significant and very interesting in and of itself – in fact, you could make a movie about it by itself if you wanted to, and I wish more attention had been paid to that. It even got edited down in my book from the original version.
The other thing I wish had been done was the scene where I put my arms around David Duke and the Colorado State leader [of the KKK] – I wish they had stretched that out a little bit more to play on the tenseness of the scene. I t was captured very well, but I would loved to have seen it done a little bit lengthier.
Director Spike Lee makes a point of drawing parallels with your experiences in the ’70s and the rise of highly visible racism and white supremacism today. What’s your take on that?
It’s not still a major issue – it never left! It’s always been there. It’s been underground for a number of years. When I say underground, I mean they weren’t visibly in the public eye. Racism as espoused by white supremacist groups has always been there, but we go through cycles in this country where they kind of dip down under the radar because of public sentiment that will raise them up, and in this case Donald Trump is that something. Spike did an excellent job connecting the historical thread from the Confederacy to David Duke to Charlottesville to Donald Trump, and I applaud him for it.
Do you consider yourself a fan of Spike Lee and his body of work?
Malcolm X is probably my favourite Spike Lee movie, followed by Do the Right Thing. I’ve always loved his work. He’s a fascinating individual and he’s an interesting individual to talk to. I am a Spike Lee fan, yes, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than to have Spike Lee direct the film version of my book – I’m very proud of that.
What kind of input did you have in the writing and making of the film? Were you extensively consulted or interviewed?
Spike rewrote part of an original script that had been submitted. The original script, I had a little bit of input – Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, the two screenwriters, they came to me with the idea of writing this screenplay and I gave them the okay to do so, with the understanding that I had final approval of what they wrote. They went through four versions of it before the fifth one came my way and I went okay, this one I can live with, and gave them the okay to go shop it around, and the rest is history.
BlacKkklansman is in cinemas from August 16, 2018.