The man who inspired the movie “BlacKkKlansman” told the Columbia community on Thursday that he thinks the movie is more relevant than ever in the current political climate.
Ron Stallworth, 65, a retired detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department, inspired the movie “BlacKkKlansman” with his true story of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klu Klux Klan in 1978 as an African American. Stallworth, who graduated from the Columbia College-Salt Lake campus in 2007, was at the college’s Columbia campus this week for a book signing, showing of the film and to receive the college’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“BlacKkKlansman” entered theaters on Aug. 10 and it quickly gained popularity. So far, the movie has been awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s second most prestigious award, the Grand Prix, and received a 95 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Stallworth said he believes “BlacKkKlansman” is making an impact today because the movie addresses modern-day issues.
“Right now we have an idiot in the White House that changed the political dynamic,” Stallworth said, referencing President Donald Trump. “The reason why everyone is resonating with this story now is because of what’s happening in Washington.”
Stallworth became the first African-American detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department in the 1970s. He was working in the intelligence sector of the police department in 1978 when he saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for the Klu Klux Klan. Stallworth sent a letter to Ken O’Dell, Colorado Springs’ KKK chapter organizer at the time, posing as a white man interested in joining the “organization,” as O’Dell liked to call it.
Thus began Stallworth’s eight-month undercover investigation conducted largely over the phone. When Klan members proposed face-to-face meetings with Stallworth, he sent another police officer, “Chuck,” to pose as the “white” Ron Stallworth. Stallworth has never publicly named his partner, instead calling him “Chuck” in his book.
Throughout the investigation, Stallworth gained crucial criminal intelligence about how the KKK intersected with other extremist groups. His work stopped three cross burnings, among other planned attacks. He was offered a leadership position within the local KKK chapter and frequently corresponded with David Duke, who at the time was the Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. Duke never suspected he was giving information to an African-American detective, Stallworth said.
The movie is prefaced with a disclaimer that it’s based upon some “fo’ real, fo’ real sh*t.” Stallworth said the film depicts mostly true events. It includes many connections to society today, he said, such as hinting similarities between Duke and Trump. The end of the film features August 2017 footage from Charlottesville, Virginia, when white nationalists clashed with anti-racism protestors. One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed after she was struck by a car. . The film also includes a speech Trump made after the protests where he said, “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
“When Trump talks about immigration policy ... when he talks about border control and keeping Muslims and Mexicans out of this country, Trump is echoing what David Duke said to me on the phone 40 years ago,” Stallworth told reporters Thursday.
Stallworth said he hopes the movie encourages the public to take action against hate.
“The hope for this movie is to get people excited to remove the negativity in this country and go out and vote,” Stallworth said.
After he retired from the Utah Department of Public Safety in 2005, Stallworth published his 2014 biography, “Black Klansman.” The book caught people’s attention, one of them being actor, comedian, producer and director Jordan Peele. Peele is the film’s executive producer along with Oscar-winning director Spike Lee.
John David Washington was cast to play Ron Stallworth; Adam Driver was cast as his partner and the “white” Ron Stallworth, named “Flip Zimmerman” in the movie.
Stallworth previously received Columbia College’s Alumni Association Community Service Award in 2010.