BlacKkKlansman's True Story: What's Real & What Was Changed

BlacKkKlansman is, unbelievably, based on a true story, but how much of Spike Lee's tale of a black detective who infiltrated the KKK over the phone and had a white officer play him in person actually happened? In short, a surprisingly large amount.

Starring John David Washington and Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman takes a very comedic approach to its storytelling, constantly pointing out the ridiculousness of the investigation. The movie even opens with a tone-setting claim that "Dis joint is based on some fo' real, fo' real sh*t". This, along with the heavy use of race-based Hollywood propaganda - Birth of a Nation and Gone With The Wind are repeatedly cited - creates a sense of almost heightened reality.

Related: Read Our BlacKkKlansman Review

However, the core of the story really did happen. Spike Lee isn't just trying to dramatize a piece of long-past history; BlacKkKlansman is intending to show how, while the white hoods are gone, the racial hatred that defines the KKK is still coursing through America's veins. To do that, he made sure the movie held up to factual scrutiny, with most changes done to amplify the parallels between Ron Stallworth's investigation and what's happening now in Trump's America.

How Ron Stallworth Joined The KKK Is (Almost) Entirely True

Blackkklansman Ron Stallworth and David Duke

The core of BlacKkKlansman's story is rooted in the real Ron Stallworth's detailed account of the investigation (from his 2014 book Black Klansman). He was the first black officer on the Colorado Springs police force, first went undercover to a Stokely Carmichael speech, and as a detective, set up the Ku Klux Klan investigation almost by accident. He got in contact the KKK after seeing an advertisement in the local paper and, after feigning a white racist attitude (including bemoaning a fictional black man dating his daughter), was invited to meet the chapter of the organization. A white colleague was used for the in-person Ron, and everything snowballed from there.

So, the majority of the first act of the movie is, dramatic license allowed, true. Even Ron's reason for giving his real name - he didn't expect it to become an undercover investigation - and the single time his different voice was challenged - explained as a sinus infection - are accurate.

The big differences is in how Ron first made contact. In the movie, Washington calls a number, leaves his details, then gets a return call. However, in reality the KKK advert only had a P.O. Box: Stallworth sent a letter and later got a followup call. This change was clearly done for pacing, getting to the investigation quicker (and also showing the Klan's immediate enthusiasm).

Adam Driver's Character Has Never Been Named (And Wasn't Jewish)

Blackkklansman Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman

While Ron Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman is pretty accurate to the real man (who Lee and Washington met before making the film), the same can't be said for Adam Driver's Flip Zimmerman. A white police officer did successfully infiltrate the KKK, but there are some key factual differences.

Stallworth's real colleague wasn't called Flip Zimmerman - his true identity remains a mystery, in accounts known only as Chuck - and there's no indication that he was Jewish. This means the entire subplot involving Flip's heritage and the conflict it creates both internally and within the KKK is a fiction made for the movie (that also means the lie detector and Ron's window-smash are false). Considering how conveniently it reflects Ron's arc, that isn't too surprising, but the depths it takes the story to make the change understandable.

There's also nothing to suggest that Flip's identity was ever discovered by an ex-con as happens in BlacKkKlansman's final act; as we'll see, the surrounding events to that shocker didn't happen and the investigation was shut down for entirely different reasons.

Patrice Dumas Never Existed (Nor Did The Investigation's Links To The Black Power Movement)

Blackkklansman Ron Stallworth and Patrice

A key subplot in both Ron's personal life and the KKK investigation involves the Black Power Movement, with Stallworth finding himself romantically involved with "pig"-hating student activist Patrice Dumas just as the Black Student Union she runs is making waves in Colorado Springs.

Verifiably true is that Stallworth attended a black student event shortly before the investigation started and the KKK were, naturally, negative towards civil rights. Beyond that, though, this entire aspect of the film fictional; Patrice didn't exist, with her character a composite of women in the Black Power Movement with no links to Ron. Essentially, Lee seems to be taking the time's wider national situation and transplanting it to this one town for the sake of contrast.

Page 2 of 2: How BlacKkKlansman's Ending Twists The Truth

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Key Release Dates
  • BlacKkKlansman (2018) release date: Aug 10, 2018
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