Spike Lee’s new movie BlacKkKlansman was released after months of anticipation. The release was carefully planned, so that it came out on the weekend of the one year anniversary of the terrible Charlottesville riot. The movie is based on the memoirs of Ron Stallworth, a black man who managed to infiltrate the core of the KKK in the 1970s, and a character who, until very recently, lived in obscurity. With John David Washington portraying Stallworth, Adam Driver as the white officer helping him, and Topher Grace as David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the KKK at that time, the film has had a good reception so far. But who was this man really and why is his story so relevant in 2018?
Stallworth was born in 1953 in Chicago, but his family moved to El Paso when he was very young. In 1972, at the age of 19, his family decided to move to Colorado Springs, and he decided he wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement. That same year he he started as a cadet, then he became the first black officer in Colorado Springs. As the film shows, his life and goals changed when he was assigned to the intelligence department and sent on an undercover mission to a Stokely Carmichael event; Carmichael was actively working with the Black Power movement.
Some years later, in 1979, he saw an ad on the local paper signed by the Ku Klux Klan, which was looking for members to start a new branch in Colorado Springs. Stallworth was surprised by the openness with which the Klan was calling for new members, so he decided to try his luck and call the number to ask for information. To do so, he pretended to be a white supremacist who wanted to turn his town into a whites-only community. Needless to say, they took the bait.
There was just one problem with his spontaneous plan: they wanted to meet him and he was not actually a racist white man. So, the station selected a man (whose name remains unknown) to pass as Stallworth and secretly record the entire meeting. This secret job was carried on for nine months to the point that Stallworth even got in touch with David Duke and was promoted to become a leader of the Colorado Springs KKK branch. This was when the investigation was closed. Stallsworth’ chief decided to stop the infiltration case, deeming it too dangerous.
All the documents and tapes were destroyed and Stallworth kept the story to himself (though he allegedly kept his KKK ID with him as a medal for his job). He moved to Utah, where he worked for almost twenty years as an investigator at the Department of Public Safety, focusing on gang activity. Then, in 2006, he finally decided to go public in an interview where he exposed his life and his infiltration work back in the seventies. In 2014, he decided to put it all on paper and wrote the memoirs the movie is based on.
Beyond the merit of his risky quest, the importance of his work isn't only the fact that he managed to trick one of the most hateful and dangerous racist groups in modern history, but the fact that he was able, even decades later, to expose internal information on how it operated. The nine-month operation didn’t lead to any arrests, but it exposed several members of the military (like the North American Aerospace Defense Command, in charge of nuclear weapons), and how the KKK reached all levels of society.
What is very interesting about the film is that it has some comedy (after all, Jordan Peele’s hand is there in the Production area) while dealing with a serious subject. Most of the KKK members are portrayed as kind of idiotic with very strong ideals they never dared to question to show us how misinformation and blind trust can be the most dangerous combination. But as I mentioned before, perhaps what’s most important about this film is that reminder that this isn’t something of the past but actually something that is still and will continue to be around.
Take a look at the official trailer and don't miss the film:
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