Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

Black Klansman is the true story of Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan (KKK, or Klan) as part of an undercover sting operation in the 1970s. As the city’s first black detective, Stallworth posed as a white supremacist in order to investigate a local chapter of the organization, after seeing a newspaper ad that called for members. Stallworth called David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, and the two had a number of conversations as Stallworth pretended to be an anti-semitic racist interested in joining. Ultimately, Stallworth gained membership and sent a white colleague to impersonate him at the initiation ceremony.

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Stallworth’s ability to infiltrate the Klan allowed him to prevent a number of instances of cross-burnings, a common tactic of the KKK, as well as allowed him to provide important information to civil rights groups about potential terrorist activity of Klan chapters.

Stallworth’s memoir was turned into a film, retitled BlacKkKlansman, by Spike Lee in 2018. Both the film and the memoir confront important themes about racism in America. Stallworth exposes the backward thinking of racist Klan members he encountered in the 1970s, but the film also reminds us of the contemporary forms of racism that still exist. Lee’s cinematic adaptation of Stallworth’s memoir splices in footage from a neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Protestors were members of far-right groups who gathered to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, among other things. Lee’s adaptation seeks to demonstrate the ways in which the racist conditions of the past have not disappeared but have, in fact, resurfaced and are as strong as ever. The film draws a number of parallels to contemporary hate groups that seek a public spotlight for their actions. The film also includes scenes of black student protestors, alluding to parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement in the contemporary era.

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