"Black Klansman" based on El Paso man who infiltrated KKK
EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) —
It's the unlikely story of a black police officer who managed to infiltrate the KKK by posing as a white supremacist.
It's been made into a major Hollywood movie.
And it's based on the life of El Pasoan Ron Stallworth.
“I tell people it’s almost like an out of body experience,” Stallworth said during a recent interview.
Stallworth is an Austin High grad who moved to Colorado Springs in the early 1970s to start his career in law enforcement.
That's where the movie "BlackkKlansman" picks up.
“Hearing my words come out of the mouths of the actors, hearing my name, seeing the events depicted that I actually lived, is very very surreal," Stallworth said.
The film was directed by Spike Lee and it has already won considerable critical acclaim, including top honors at the Cannes Film Festival.
It tells the story of how Stallworth and his Jewish partner were able to lead double lives to infiltrate a local chapter of the KKK.
“I just simply wrote a book," Stallworth said. "I didn’t expect it to go this far and there I am sitting there and it’s all hitting you in the face. Very surreal moment. Very proud moment.”
The movie chronicles how Stallworth spent hours on the phone speaking to KKK leader David Duke, played by Topher Grace. Stallworth is played by John David Washington, who happens to be Denzel Washington's son.
“They asked me my opinion who did I want to play me," Stallworth said. "I told them Denzel. I like Denzel. Except he’s about my same age and I was 25 when all this took place. So that wasn't going to work.”
The movie is based on Ron's book by the same name, which he wrote in 2014. The book has recently climbed into the New York Times Bestsellers list for nonfiction paperbacks.
“It’s one of those moments when you have to pinch yourself and look over at your loved one, my wife Patsy in this case, and say, ‘Honey is this really happening? Is this for real?'” Stallworth said.
After he retired, Stallworth returned to El Paso. He was honored by his hometown when the City of El Paso recently declared "Ron Stallworth Week."
Over the past several weeks, he and his wife have been traveling across the country promoting the movie.
“To see this book coming to the big screen? Naw, come on. We’re two little El Paso kids," said Patsy Stallworth. "This doesn’t happen. It’s not real. But we’ll embrace it. We’ll ride it. We’ll enjoy it. I’m very proud of him.”
The makers of "BlackkKlansman" have said they didn't want to make a period piece. They wanted to connect the racism of the past to what's is happening now with a resurgence in white supremacist groups.S
Stallworth says the movie succeeds at capturing the message of his book, drawn from the lessons of his life.
“You can’t duck this issue. You should face it head on. Meet it head on. Stomp it to the ground as much as you possibly can," he said. "But stop trying to avoid it and never ever be afraid of white supremacists like the Klan ever again.”
Stallworth will be answering questions and signing copies of his book at a special screening of "BlackkKlansman" on Saturday August 11 at the Alamo Drafthouse in West El Paso.