Unmasked: The True Story of 'BlacKkKlansman'
“BlacKkKlansman” is nominated for six Academy Awards. But the movie’s true story is stranger than fiction.
Lee’s film is based on the 2014 autobiography of the same name by former Colorado Springs Police Officer Ron Stallworth. Portrayed in the film by John David Washington, Stallworth was the first African-American police officer to work at the precinct in 1972 and he came up with a unique idea to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Just like in the film, one of Stallworth’s first assignments was going undercover at a Stokely Carmichael speaking engagement in the town. The police department was reportedly worried that the civil rights leader’s speech might insight violence in the town.
After getting a taste for going undercover, in 1978, Stallworth decided to drop a letter in the mail to the local KKK chapter. He signed it with his real name in order to see if they would call him back.
"We scan the newspapers every day to see what might impact our city and what if anything we can do to respond to it. On this particular day I saw the ad Ku Klux Klan for information and a P.O. Box. I figured, 'What the heck?' I penned this note using the language of hate in it, identifying myself basically as a white supremacist who wanted to affect the white cause,” Stallworth told “CBS This Morning” last summer.
In the film, there's a phone number to call rather than a P.O. Box to send a letter, likely to speed up the movie narrative.
Weeks after sending the letter, Stallworth said he received a call from the head of the local KKK chapter. The member wanted to meet with him.
But there was a small problem: Stallworth’s skin color. He had to scramble to get one of his white co-workers to go to the meeting as himself.
In the movie, Stallworth recruits his white co-worker, Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish man who is portrayed by Adam Driver in the movie, to pretend to be a man interested in white supremacy. In Stallworth’s book, his co-worker is only referred to as “Chuck,” and he keeps the man’s real identity a secret. However, “Chuck” was not Jewish.
"The plan didn't being until this phone call ended when the local organizer wanted to meet me in a week. I basically described the white officer in my book, his name is Chuck. I basically described him as me,” Stallworth told “CBS This Morning.”
Just like in the film, Stallworth told the Klan over the phone that he was upset his sister was dating a black man as a ploy to try and convince the group of his allegiance.
One of the things Lee fictionalized was Stallworth’s love interest. In the movie, Stallworth falls in love with a college activist student named Patrice Dumas, whom he met at the Carmichael event; however, she never existed. Lee wrote her in as a way to not only add a love interest but as an inspiration to all women of the Black Power Movement, according to reports.
Much like the film, Stallworth and his white stand-in would share notes on conversations they had with members of the white supremacist group both on the phone and in person in their respective roles.
Stallworth got so close to the KKK that even then-Grand Wizard David Duke was very impressed with his rhetoric. Just like the film, Duke and Stallworth did meet face to face when the Grand Wizard visited Colorado Springs in the winter of 1979.
In the years after they talked, Duke went on to push a white nationalist agenda across the country and even held public office in Louisiana. Stallworth said his one regret was not being able to go public with the case, which he believes might have hurt Duke's image among his admirers.
"He would have had to answer to the people who he was trying to appeal to, why he got conned by a black man. I feel like had I been allowed to go public with this, I might have been able to impact that. We'll never know, but I'd like to think we might have,” he told “CBS This Morning.”
Lee’s motion picture depicts Stallworth’s case coming to a close after a bombing in the town. There was not an actual bombing. In real life, the officer’s chief felt that his men were getting too close to the source and was reportedly worried about his police department having ties to the hate group.
Stallworth says his work did thwart several cross burnings, one of which is shown in the film. He says he and his white partner were also able to get the names of members within the terrorist group, including being able to point out that two of the members worked at the government organization the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), as shown in the film.
The now-retired cop wrote in his book that NORAD told him the two officials would be transferred to “the North Pole.”
One of the final scenes of Lee’s film shows Stallworth calling David Duke and revealing to the Grand Wizard that he had been duped by a black man. Duke in both the film and in real life boasted that he could tell when he was speaking to a black person on the phone. However, the real Ron Stallworth was not able to get the satisfaction his film version received. After his chief pulled the plug on the assignment, Stallworth never spoke to anyone about the case again until he wrote his book.
Everywhere he's been in the past 40 years, Stallworth has carried around a souvenir — his official membership card to the Ku Klux Klan. In the film, it shows him tossing it away.
"It's a memento of my career and if I'm in a car crash some cop is going to come upon my mangled body and he's going to find this and freak out,” Stallworth told “CBS This Morning.”
John David Washington told Entertainment Weekly last year that upon meeting the man he portrays in the film, Stallworth showed him and the cast his Klan card.
“He passed the card around for us to see and feel and it kind of just brought truth to everything he said, a validation,” Washington said.
“BlacKkKlansman” is nominated for six Academy Awards.
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