Q&A: Ron Stallworth talks “BlacKkKlansman,” filmmaking process


Ron Stallworth speaks Jan. 24 at the Memorial Union about his story of being a black detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. “…And about 90 days later I got my membership card. Certifying me as a member of the knights of the Ku Klux Klan under David Duke’s operation for the year 1979.”

Caitlin Yamada

On Thursday, the Daily conducted an interview with Ron Stallworth, the author of “Black Klansman: A memoir” and basis for the recent movie “BlacKkKlansman” before his lecture at Iowa State.

How involved were you in the filmmaking process?

“My involvement in the movie was being there at the first reading when the cast got together for the first time. Spike [Lee] brought me and my wife to Brooklyn and we sat through the reading. He had me address the actors beforehand to tell them my story because many of them had not read it before. Then, I answered any questions they had and after the reading itself I was approached for individual questions and we exchanged phone numbers with John David Washington and I spoke with him several times during the course of the filming and Adam Driver as well.”

How much of the movie is accurate to the real events?

“I like to tell people there’s about 80 percent of my book in the film and creative script writing for the other. They tell the basic story but they take some liberties which I was aware of. In some cases they twisted the timeline. For example, I was not a rookie, as depicted in the movie, I was a 25 year old, 4 year veteran of the department when my investigation began, and the Adam Driver character, Flip, his name is Chuck in my book, he was not my superior, I was the senior detective of the two of us. Flip, Adam Driver’s character is not Jewish in real life, that was part of the two things the script writers who are Jewish. That was part of the appeal for me when they approached me about writing the script is that they wanted to make that character Jewish to add tension to the scenes where he is alone with the Klansman.

Iowa State students had a strong reaction to the footage at the end of the film of the Charlottesville riots. What was your opinion of this ending?

“I think the ending is very important. Ironically when my wife and I read the script, that ending was not in there. The ending was going to be the cross burning that you see at the end, but as Spike tells the story, two weeks before they started filming Charlottesville occurred, before they started filming, and that’s when he decided he was going to make that the ending with permission from Heather Heyer’s mother, the girl who got killed when that car hit her. I think that scene is very powerful. Several people have described it as a gut punch to the stomach and that’s exactly what it is because that brings to reality the fact that what I was living through 40 years ago is still going on today. Especially when you see the footage of Donald Trump and David Duke at the end. David Duke is still preaching the same stuff that he was 40 years ago and Donald Trump used David Duke’s playbook in order to con 63 million people into voting for him and putting him in the White House.”

The film has been released in an interesting social and political time, are there parallels between what we are seeing now and what you saw during your investigation?

“What I was going through 40 years ago is exactly what is going on today. The only difference is 40 years ago we didn’t have a racist white supremacist in the white house. He has given a nod and a wink to these folks and they feel free to come up from the underground and out of the woodwork to espouse their racial ideology. They feel like they have one of them at the top of our government and they’re right. He is, for me in all honesty, he is the ideological leader of the white supremacy movement in America right now. And some of them have even stated that. So there are a lot of parallels just today and it’s a frightening parallel.”

What is your advice for people of color who are interested in joining the police force?

“How are you going to change something that is wrong if you don’t get involved, you don’t engage? You can’t change the system from the outside. You can rant and rave and scream and yell all you want about police brutality, this is wrong, that is wrong, but if you really want to make a difference, get in the system and change it from within. There’s a scene in the movie where Patrice tells [my character] you cannot change the system from within because it’s an inherently racist system. It may be inherently racist but you can change it from within if you get involved, get engaged. So I would encourage any black person out there, any minority, if you aspire a career in law enforcement, get in the system to change it.

Currently there are conversations surrounding people of color as police officers and the conflict with police brutality and systematic oppression of people of color within the police force —

“[Police brutality is] wrong. We were born to uphold the constitution of the United States and the constitution of our individual states. If you live up to that oath that you take, you will not violate the law. You may bend the things a little bit but you will not violate it. And that oath should be taken seriously. We have police brutality issues going on. The cop that is involved with that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and the officers within the department who are aware of the wrongdoing should really acknowledge the fact that it is taking place and who the guilty culprits are. Too often we in law enforcement went behind this blue wall of silence and we know what is going on, we know who the bad apples are, but we dont speak out against it because we want to protect our own. That needs to change. I’ve lost friends at the Colorado Springs police department because I condemned the police brutality that is going on. And to my friends who have condemned me, their attitude is their police officers, we should all stick together, we’re a brotherhood. We may be a brotherhood but that brotherhood needs to recognize there’s some bad apples in it.”

Is there anything important that I didn’t ask you about?

“The district in Iowa needs to ban together and get rid of that racist white supremacist … Steve King. The very fact that he is in congress representing the folk in that county is a stain and a blot on that county and everyone in this country. He is a racist, a white supremacists, he is an ally of Donald Trump who is a racist and a white supremacist and the people need to get out and vote and get that son of a b—– out of there.”