Spike Lee's 'BlacKkKlansman': Fact vs fiction

Hanna Flint
Blackkklansman is not entirely true

Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is in cinemas this week and tells the story of one black police officer’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1970s.

Ron Stallworth, played by John David Washington, is the officer in question who enlists the help of Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman in order to run an undercover operation into the racist organisation’s actions in the Colorado area.

The film, based on the real Stallworth’s book BlacK Klansman: A Memoir, has earned much praise from critics as it provides a timeless commentary on racism in America as well as nodding its head to the MAGA generation of discrimination currently occurring in the US under Donald Trump’s presidency.

However, Sorry to Bother You director Boots Riley has criticised the story for fabricating many of the events and characterisations in the film in order to position the police force in a better light.

Spoilers incoming…

“[T]o the extent that people of colour deal with actual physical attacks and terrorising due to racism and racist doctrines — we deal with it mostly from the police on a day to day basis,” Riley wrote. “And not just from white cops. From black cops too.

“So for Spike to come out with a movie where a story points are fabricated in order make Black cop and his counterparts look like allies in the fight against racism is really disappointing, to put it very mildly.”

So what’s real and what’s not in Lee’s new film? Yahoo Movies UK investigates (SPOILERS ABOUND).

Was Ron Stallworth the first black police officer to join the Colorado Springs police force?

Yes, he was. The real Stallworth said in his memoir had wanted to join since high school and actually enrolled in the academy first, but that’s not really put across in the film.

Did Stallworth go undercover at a Black Power rally hosted by Stokely Carmichael?

Yes. His first undercover assignment was to infiltrate and report back on the influence of the leading Civil Rights figure, going by his African name Kwame Ture at the time, and his Black Power movement. Like in the film, the local police force was worried that his rhetoric would incite violence, however, his assignment apparently didn’t stop there. 

BlackkKlansman author Ron Stallworth on real talks with David Duke

According to Riley, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Stallworth allegedly spent a further three years working with the FBI as part of its Counter Intelligence Program (Cointelpro) on a series of covert and sometimes illegal operations to sabotage the Black Power movement. 

Did Stallworth really call up the KKK after seeing an ad in the local paper?

Technically he didn’t call up the Ku Klux Klan after seeing an ad in the local paper, he sent a letter as only an address was given. “I was sitting in my office reading the local newspaper,” says Stallworth in his memoir, “saw an ad that said Ku Klux Klan. For information, there was a P.O. Box [address].”

The Klan then called him and from then communication happened by telephone until a face-to-face meeting was confirmed so he sent his white colleague – who he doesn’t identify in the memoir other than calling him Chuck – to act as Ron Stallworth in his place. In the film, he’s played by Adam Driver and called Flip Zimmerman.

To convince the Klan, like in the movie, that he was a white supremacist Stallworth used as racial slurs and complained about his (fake) white sister dating a black man.

Did Ron Stallworth really give his real name?

Yes. He thought he’d be sent some leaflets on the Klan, not that it would lead to an investigation, so gave his real name in the initial letter.

Was Flip really Jewish?

No, this was characteristic was added by Spike Lee to give Driver’s character “more skin in the game” and to hit home the message that white supremacy and racism isn’t just a black issue. The real undercover officer also didn’t have to do a lie detector test either.

How long did the undercover investigation last?

The investigation is said to have lasted nine months with undercover officers from other departments helping out.

Did the real Ron Stallworth speak with David Duke?

Yes. Stallworth told NPR that the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK was under the Grand Wizard’s supervision and when he didn’t get his application confirmed after a few weeks he called him directly. Like in the film, Duke (as played by Topher Grace) told

Yes. Stallworth told NPR that the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK was under the Grand Wizard’s supervision and when he didn’t get his application confirmed after a few weeks he called him directly. Like in the film, Duke (as played by Topher Grace) told Stallworth that he would ensure, personally, that his application was processed. His Certificate of Citizenship of the Invisible Empire was signed by Duke too. Stallworth said he talked to him on several occasions during the investigation.

Topher Grace stars as David Duke in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, a Focus Features release. Credit: David Lee / Focus Features

Did they meet?

Yes. Stallworth was tasked with being Duke’s police protection during his visit to the area on January 10, 1979. That was the only contact, in person, he had with members from the KKK during the investigation. All other face-to-face interactions happened through his white partner Chuck/Flip.

Did he get a picture?

According to Stallworth yes, but the picture has since gone missing. The retired police officer says that Chuck/Flip took the photo on a polaroid too. Speaking to the NY Post, Stallworth also confirmed the reaction to him putting his arm around Duke was replicated in the film.

Was Patrice Dumas Laura Harrier really a black activist and girlfriend of Stallworth?

No, she was made up for the movie so that the women of the Black Power movement were represented.

John David Washington, left, and Laura Harrier in a scene from “BlacKkKlansman.” (David Lee/Focus Features via AP)

Was Stallworth nominated to be the head of the local KKK chapter?

Yes, but it was at this point that his police chief freaked out and shut down the investigation for fear of the force’s ties to the organisation coming out in public.

Did they really thwart a bomb threat?

No, that was added for dramatic purposes in the movie. According to Stallworth the investigated stopped several cross-burnings and rallies.

Did Stallworth reveal his real identity to Duke?

No, that moment was added for the movie. No one knew about Stallworth’s infiltration of the KKK until he publishedhis memoir in 2014. He also didn’t throw away his Klan card, he framed it.

BlacKkKlansman is in cinemas now.

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