At the outset of “BlacKkKlansman,” we read a zany variation of a standard Hollywood introduction: “Dis Joint Is Based Upon Some Fo’ Real, Fo’ Real (Excrement).”
Translation: This movie is based on fact.
And yet …
A crucial scene shows a Ku Klux Klan sympathizer who never existed carrying a bomb that never existed to blow up a Colorado College activist who never existed. During this flurry of activity, two white Colorado Springs police officers manhandle an African-American who happens to be a detective. This manhandling — you guessed it — never happened. The movie is set in Colorado Springs, but the scene was filmed in leafy Ossining, N.Y.
Seems dis joint, up for Best Picture in Sunday’s Oscars, is loosely based on fact.
I’m a literalist who sits in movie theaters two or three times a month. I enjoyed “BlacKkKlansman” but want my fiction to be fiction and my fact to be fact. No blending allowed. But hard truth is not Hollywood’s thing. “Argo,” “First Man” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” among many others, strayed too.
This week, I shared my cinematic concerns with Ron Stallworth. This was the right idea. He’s an expert on the true “BlacKkKlansman” story.
“BlacKkKlansman” is based — there’s that word again — on Stallworth’s 1979 adventures as Colorado Springs’ first African-American detective. Stallworth became a member of the KKK — he owns the card to prove it — and infiltrated this evil band of white supremacists.
“It’s Hollywood,” Stallworth politely responded after hearing my concerns. “Get over it.”
Imagine a director making a movie of your life. Imagine sitting in a theater and watching a performer imitate you. Yes, I know. Hard to imagine.
Stallworth lived this rare experience.
“I had no problems,” he said by phone. “I knew they would take liberties. Hollywood always does. Keep in mind. It said it was based on a true story. It doesn’t say the story is actually 100 percent accurate.”
Stallworth could not, after signing away rights, demand changes in the script, but he requested the movie “not to make the police look like buffoons.” Stallworth didn’t want to watch police “with their sirens going” as their cruiser speeds 10 miles away from a crime scene with no traffic in sight.
Director/co-screenwriter Spike Lee, Stallworth said, avoided those scenes.
The collaboration thrived. In an early version of the script, Stallworth read a scene that depicted him in bed with his fictional love interest.
“I can tell you, they had a very mild love scene in the original script,” he said. “I couldn’t get over the fact that this is me, and it was kind of yucky for me to be portrayed like that in front of a national audience.”
He asked that the love scene be removed. So in a revised but not final version of the script, Stallworth was given a dog instead of a girlfriend to ease the burden of doing battle with the KKK.
“Even I knew that a dog wasn’t going to work,” Stallworth said, laughing. “I told them to put the romantic interest back in there. That’s what they did, and you saw how it came out.”
In the final version, Stallworth embarks on a romance with a CC student. They never are shown in bed together.
I talked with Stallworth about the bomb scene, the one that never happened in Colorado Springs reality. Stallworth comfortably watched the scene that made me uncomfortable. The scene is true in spirit, he said, even if it’s not true in fact.
“In terms of the bombing at the end, the local Klan people had been talking to me on the phone about wanting to bomb two gay bars,” Stallworth said. “The scene may seem gratuitous, but it’s based on conversations that I had with them about actually carrying out a bombing in Colorado Springs.”
He refers to the police manhandling his character as a “thumping.”
“It definitely didn’t happen to me,” he said.
But, again, he asks viewers, including me, to consider a higher truth.
“That scene is very much a play on all the incidents going on today with rogue officers violating the rights of African-American citizens,” Stallworth said. “It was a way to connect current events with the racial obscenities of the past. In terms of what the Klan used to do and rogue cops used to do with black people way back in the day.
“Yeah, that scene has a purpose to it. It has a meaning to it. I have no problems with those things.”