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Right Side of History ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Right Side of History ‘BlacKkKlansman’

BlacKkKlansman is a film that is on the right side of history. The film debuted at Cannes De Festival to an 8-minute standing ovation and one of four American films to win the Grand Prix Award. This Spike Lee film brings the present day events to their historical ties with this film of Ron Stallworth’s real-life story.

BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Cannes Red Carpet 4Chion Style
BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Film

Film Synopsis:

Director Spike Lee presents BlacKkKlansman, an incendiary film inspired by the life of Ron Stallworth, the first police officer African-American to have infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Against all odds, the agent Stallworth (John David Washington) and his partner (Adam Driver) Flip Zimmerman will infiltrate the highest echelons of the Klan, to stop him from taking control of the city.

Actors at Festival De Cannes:

  • Spike Lee ~ Director/Writer
  • Adam Driver ~ Flip Zimmerman
  • Topher Grace ~ David Duke
  • Laura Harrier ~ Patrice
  • John David Washington ~ Ron Stallworth

BlacKkKlansman Current History

Spike Lee discusses how surreal the tragedy of Heather Higher being murdered at Charlottesville Virginia protests brings coda to this film. Her death took place after filming completion. Lee put it in the film to see what happened. When he saw what happened he knew this was the final scene.

He states, “I had to do something first. I was given Susan Bro’s, Higher’s mother, phone number. I was not going to put that murder scene in that film without her blessing. Mrs. Bro said, ‘Spike I give you permission to put that in.'” Willmott states, “It was a beautiful sacrifice she made.  They collected footage and photos from those at the time of Higher’s murder to get the best coverage of this horrific unnecessary murder. Higher should be alive today. The President of the United States could not stand up to the world to say we are about love, not about hate, we are better than murdering a young woman.

Lee goes on to speak about the building of the United States of America (USA) from the genocide of Native Americans and slavery. This is the fabric of the USA. This scene had to go in to show that our leaders are giving us a direction that is not moral. This is a worldwide problem. It is not a black, brown, and white world. We all live on this planet. We have to stand up and stop being silent.

BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Cannes Red Carpet 4Chion Style b BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Cannes Red Carpet

BlacKkKlansman Screenplay

Jordan Peele, the film’s producer, pitched the story of Ron Stallworth. Lee thought it was a comedy skit. When he realized it was a true story he brought Kevin Willmott in to assist with writing the screenplay. There was one thing that Lee understood in making the film it had to tie to the current climate. The situations today did not just pop up but they have been around for decades.

The focus of the story was to tell this period piece while connecting to the present day. The movie needed to end in the present day. Lee says, “I did not have the crystal ball, even though my friends call me negrodamus {sic}. The film’s ending was not written it was true life. Lee continues with Spike Lee joiners you got to flow, cannot be rigid, got to be hip, on it. There is no way in the world he could not make that the end of the film. The screenplay is based on the book by Stallworth, Black Klansman. 

Chaz Ebert asks about the language in the film and if it is necessary to use the tone and word choice.  Lee answers “words are hateful. Words can be hateful and I do not think I was elaborating on how the Klan not only hates blacks they hate Jews, they are number two on the list. They do not speak lovely terms and those words are harmful. The way we had them speaking in the film is the way they speak every day. It was my decision to hear those words. I wanted the hate to be verbalized.”

BlacKkKlansman Kevin Willmott Screenwriter

Kevin Willmott, Oscar® nominated screenwriter, brings his insight into screenwriting adaptation and BlacKkKlansman to the Prochnow Auditorium in Flagstaff AZ.

Willmott discusses creating stories that Stallworth tells from Willmott’s own life experience. This is one part of the screenplay he owns. He states, “Telling a character’s story you have to fictionalize the stories. Often as a writer, you do that with your own life experiences.”

His adapts from the book as much as he can from the source. Screenwriters job is to create a movie. Willmott tries to remain as loyal to the book as possible. He tries to connect to the spirit of the story when writing the film. The addition of Flip Zimmerman being Jewish brings the spirit of the film. This adds to the story with the KKK suppressing and victimizing not only African Americans but other groups.

Willmott takes time after the film to discuss the screenwriting, production, and how he has fought against racism his entire life.  “America First” is a Nazi slogan from the 1930s used in this country at rallies across the US. “Make America Great Again” is from the 1970s. David Duke started this propaganda on the Donahue show. They did not have to reach to tie the past to the current political rhetoric.  Willmott says, “The past is living in us today right now. It is what is making it a dangerous time.”

David Duke did call Ron Stallworth when the film finished. He asked, “How am I portrayed in the film?”

BlacKkKlansman Cast and Crew

Lee states, “This is very simple we tell the story.  That is what we do. I do not do this shit alone. I am a general manager of a sport’s team. Put the best players out there. Filmmaking is a collaborating effort.  It is some hard shit. Filmmaking is hard shit. You got to go to work. Learn your craft and do your research.” You want to put the best people behind the camera to make the best film you can.

Barry Alexander Brown, a film editor,  is able to create the final scene from footage taken from people’s phone. He was able to prove the needless death of Higher and that she should be alive now.

Chayse Irvin, the cinematographer, is amazing. He shot this on film, not digital. We really wanted to have the look of seventies films split screens. I forgot shooting with film takes a lot of time because it has been so long since working with film.

John David Washington (son of Denzel Washington) plays Ron Stallworth in the movie.  Washington was able to learn from Stallworth about what he was going through he is like the Jackie Robinson of police. It took a lot to get the position in the police department.  While Stallworth was protecting and servicing Colorado Springs, he prevented terrorist violence. There were no violent acts during this time on the police force. One black man, that is very well supported.

He wanted to inhabit his spirit. Setting up the environment was a great collaborating environment. Your abilities become unlimited in this environment. He felt very blessed to have this experience glad to be a part of this experience.

Adam Drive, his character Flip Zimmerman, we had a week or two to talk about it before. The research helps but you have to let that go when you get on set. Pay attention to what is being said by you and cast. Playing music on my iPod assisted. Spike creates an environment where the best ideas win, a very egoless set. Everyone had a life outside the filming and we got home at a decent hour. Spike sets the tone that it is easy that you feel free to fail.

Topher Grace, his character is David Duke, KKK Grand Wizard put in a lot of time for his part.  He read My Awaking by David Duke,  watched The Donahue Show when the KKK was on the show and listened to his radio show. Grace recalls being asked to play in a Lee film, “This is one of the happiest times in my life followed by one of the worst times when I realized the character I was going portray.” He felt the responsibility to get it right, but no did not feel the responsibility to Duke.

Grace capture this character through the script, it did a really good job of creating the KKK and David as a leader. Lee is a great coach. There was a day I had to something that was really evil. Spike said, “Try this a Nazi salute and said white power. I am rarely affected by filming but I was in a very bad space.” Lee assisted him by explaining that this is a message that you agree with even though you don’t agree with the character you are playing.

Laura Harrier, her character Patrice, tried to inhabit the spirit and time period. Meeting her real-life character helped her embrace the character’s life, relationships, and spirit. She watched Black Panther footage and listened to the music. Having a great team and taking Spike’s guidance.

BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Cannes Red Carpet 4Chion Style b BlacKkKlansman Spike Lee Cannes Image Credit Antonin Thuillier

BlacKkKlansman Message

Lee talks about the message as being believing in hope. Many of his films are hope like Do the Right thing is a hopeful film. He is not blind or deaf, he thinks you can be hopeful but be aware. This film will be seen around the world. This is a global problem. I do hope that other people from other countries will see that this is happening where they live. Lee says, “I have hope that this film shakes people from their slumber. This is a very important film. People are having a hard time coping. In our hearts, we know what is right and wrong. When you have wrong staring you dead in your face and mums the word, you are supporting the opposing causes. “sorting the opposing causes.”

The film will release on the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville demonstration August 10, 2018.

This is truly an incredible film one that is gut-wrenching, funny, honest, and real. It brings this issues full circle and to the present day.

This film is nominated for


  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Film Editing
  • Music Original Score
  • Writing Adapted Screenplay

See the trailer here


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Photo Credit Cannes Film Festival

Anne-Christine Poujoulat—AFP/Getty Images

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