How Blackkklansman The Movie Compares to Black Klansman The Book
One of my most anticipated movies of the summer is Blackkklansman. Based on the premise and the pedigree of talent involved (Spike Lee and Jordan Peele) only heightened my anticipation. Also, it is based on a true story set in Colorado (where I am from) which made me even more eager to watch it. However, I wanted to read Ron Stallworth’s memoir that provided the historical backstory.
As soon as buzz exploded at Cannes, I put the book on hold at the Denver Public Library. As an English major and a history geek, I had to read the book before watching the movie! Adapting a book into a movie is a challenging role. It can drive fans crazy when filmmakers cull some information, adding new details, and translating or even changing the tone from page to screen. Not everything is going to make it in the movie. Key details might need to be removed to maintain an ideal pace.
As Ron Stallworth recently told the Denver Post, Blackkklansman is more entertainment than the historical account which is something to strongly consider whenever watching any “based on a true story” movie. As someone who follows non-fiction accounts and adores the documentary genre, I wanted to re-read parts of the book to figure out what was accurate to Ron’s account and what was big screen entertainment.
What from the movie was in the book?
One thing I was surprised by Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman was how much the phone interactions between Ron Stallworth and David Duke were consistent with the book. This is the most accurate account from the memoir. Surely jaded audiences would think these moments were exaggerated for comedic or dramatic effect. Nope. They built a friendly rapport with one another (at least over the phone).
The movie Birth of a Nation was prevalent in both the book and the movie. I thought Spike Lee would have an affirmation to the power of cinema and would show clips of the movies since he is a director. However, after re-reading parts of the book, Stallworth’s memoir references the movie a few times during different points. Klan members watch the movie after their swearing-in ceremonies as well as mention how much they are fascinated with the movie.
Ron Stallworth was assigned to guard David Duke. The picture Ron took with his arms around David Duke was in fact real! This wasn’t a big moment to garner big laughs. Ron did this in real life! However, he admits he couldn’t locate the Polaroid photo to this day. What an image that would’ve been! This ultimate form of trolling was one of my favorite moments in Blackkklansman.
The clips of Charlottesville and Trump weren’t as random as one might think. In the June 2018 update to his book, Ron Stallworth mentioned how this current event affected him and reminded him of his time infiltrating the KKK. Watching final moments in Blackkklansman was a tough sit, stirred my emotions and really fired me up. It was during this moment when the entertaining satirical drama became too real reminding viewers the horror of racism in modern America.
What from the book didn’t make the movie?
There is a chapter called “KKKolorado” which delves into Denver’s history with the Klan. It was in depth and I learned a lot as a resident. The book mentions a lot of Colorado history involving the KKK, but Spike Lee’s movie doesn’t include it in the movie. Much of the information is detailed exposition that serves as a background. Lee isn’t making a movie for my home state but telling Ron’s story so I didn’t mind it didn’t make it in Blackkklansman.
I noticed Denver had more of connection to the story even though the movie focused more on Colorado Springs. This included their police officers were recruited to help officers in the Springs and many Denver based activists came to protest David Duke.
One of the most interesting omissions from the book was David Duke’s local press tour. He was interviewed on KRDO –TV radio as Ron stood guard outside. On KKTV, Duke debated a black professor of history from USC – Pueblo. This would have made for great drama but wasn’t included in the movie. I wish it was because it would have been an emotional moment and could be a remembrance that this kind of hate doesn’t deserve a “both sides” caliber platform in the news.
Finally, there is a crazy incident where OSI agents take Ron to NORAD to talk about his infiltrating of the Klan. This is worth reading about in the book. Overall, the story is more of an intelligence investigation and not a criminal one.
And what wasn’t in the book?
This part contains spoilers so it will be brief…
Blackkklansman accurately reflects the memoir so there isn’t too much to mention. Obviously, the introduction from Gone with the Wind and the scene featuring Alec Baldwin was created for the movie. Ron’s love interest Patrice (Laura Harrier) was never mentioned in the book. (While attending the Kwame Ture speech, Ron sits next to a German woman in the bar but their relationship doesn’t materialize beyond this interaction.) The third act thriller aspects and genuine tension involving the bomb and the too close to call explosion was never mentioned in Ron’s account. Finally, I don’t recall the dance sequence as memorable as the one in the movie!
Check out Aaron Neuwirth’s 10 out of 10 review to get a more in-depth, rave review of Blackkklansman.
Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is essential cinema worth seeking out and easily the best thing to watch in theaters this August. Opening a year to the day of the Charlottesville rally makes it a very relevant watch. The righteously enraged movie both entertains and informs. Blackkklansman is one of the year’s best movies and is now playing across the country. Don’t miss it!