In Spike Lee’s newest cinematic indictment of race relations in America, BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington stars as Detective Ron Stallworth, a Black police officer who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. Based on the true story of the first Black officer to join the Colorado Springs police department in the ‘70s, BlacKkKlansman resonates strongly because many of the themes of hate—the language in particular—are still prevalent today.
Produced by Jordan Peele, the film also stars Topher Grace as the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, and Adam Driver as Stallworth’s partner, “Flip,” who poses as him when he meets with Klansmen face to face. Washington was introduced to many TV viewers as football star Ricky Jerrett on HBO’s Ballers but makes his feature film debut as a lead in BlacKkKlansman.
“When I found out it was Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, I mean, it’s a no-brainer,” says Washington, son of frequent Lee collaborator Denzel Washington. “I don’t think anybody else could have told this story besides Spike Lee and Jordan Peele. So, obviously I’m on board. Just the fact that this really happened, this is a true piece of American history. It’s a film about good, old-fashioned American hate. Yes, some of it was humorous, but it was very serious and very dangerous. And it just shows you how powerful words are when hate is instituted, when it’s taught, when it’s organized…how divisive it can be.”
The timeliness of the film can’t be understated, being released on the one-year anniversary of white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the murder of one anti-protester Heather Heyer and the injury of many more. The Klan’s subversive terror tactics have proven just as effective in recruitment 40 years later. Washington revealed that his first personal encounter with racism came when he was just a child.
“My mom is from North Carolina, and I spent a lot of time out there,” he says. “I think I was 10 years old. I remember being called the N-word by an older white gentleman. So I’ve encountered it, obviously. But just to be able to put whatever those frustrations are into something positive, a film like this or whatever an outlet can be. Hate has a language, so we have to find a language to combat that…Yes, it is a period piece but it has a contemporary flow and feel to it, because it’s been traditional. The film wasn’t suggestive in any way, either. It wasn’t like, ‘These are the bad guys.’ No. It was just exposing a truth about this country and how people really feel.”
BlacKkKlansmen is in theaters nationwide today!