Seasoned filmmaker Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing”) partners with rising star creator Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) for a narrative thriller about a real life Black detective who accomplished the unthinkable in 1979: infiltrating and leading a Ku Klux Klan chapter.
The Hollywood Reporter announced on Friday (September 8) that Lee and Peele will co-produce “Black Klansman,” a feature film based on Ron Stallworth’s 2014 memoir of the same name. The production unites two Black filmmakers of different generations who frequently tackle race and racism in their projects.
“Black Klansman” focuses on Stallworth’s work as an undercover detective in late-’70s Colorado Springs, Colorado, to stymie the growth of a local Klan chapter. By posing as a White supremacist over the phone and sending a White colleague to portray him at meetings, Stallworth rose to the chapter’s senior leadership position while using his power to sabotage several cross burnings. He did this all while working for a department that, as he explained in a 2014 Vice interview, wrestled with its own internal racism:
I was specifically told that I would not be welcomed by the rank and file within the department because it had been White for so long. I was told on more than one occasion by my interview panel, “Essentially, you’re going to be in the same position as Jackie Robinson. You will be the only Black face in that department. You will be challenged at every opportunity, and you will be in a hostile environment. The challenge for you is to exist in that hostile environment without fighting back.”
Stallworth also told Vice that he struggled to balance the necessary secrecy of his undercover work with his other job duties, which included guarding former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke during a speaking engagement:
I introduced myself to David Duke, told him I was a detective assigned to be his bodyguard because of threats made against him. I said that I did not believe in his political philosophy or ideology but I was a professional and would do anything within my means to make sure he got out safe from my city. He thanked me very cordially, very graciously—he shook my hand, even gave me the Klan handshake. He didn’t know that I knew it but he gave me the Klan handshake. He was pleased, as was the local organizer. And then I asked him for a picture. I said, “Mr. Duke, nobody will ever believe me if I told them I was your bodyguard, would you mind taking a picture with me?” He said, “No, not at all.” I gave the camera to Chuck, the White Ron Stallworth, and stood between David Duke and the grand dragon. I put my arm on both their shoulders, and the grand dragon thought it was funny, but David Duke was offended—he pushed my arm away. He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t be seen in a photo with you like that.”
The Hollywood Reporter adds that actor John David Washington (“Ballers”)—Denzel Washington’s son—is in negotiations to portray Stalloworth. Lee, Kevin Willmont (“Chi-Raq”), Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz (“Madness”) co-wrote the adapted screenplay. Peele produces via his own Monkeypaw Entertainment and Blumhouse Productions, which first collaborated for Peele’s critical and commercial hit, “Get Out.”
Per The Hollywood Reporter, production will start this fall.