AFI Movie Club: BLACKKKLANSMAN – American Film Institute
Blackkklansman Film Still - John David Washington and Adam Driver



BLACKKKLANSMAN adapted from Ron Stallworth’s true story about his undercover investigation into the Ku Klux Klan as a Black detective in the 1970s, was directed by Academy Award® winner – and AFI Honorary Degree recipient – Spike Lee, and produced by Jason Blum and Jordon Peele. The film was honored with an AFI AWARD in 2018, recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films of the year.

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Watch the full conversation with film critic Shawn Edwards and Ron Stallworth, author and real-life inspiration for today’s film:

Watch cinematic milestones from decades past that have led to today’s story:

Learn more about BLACKKKLANSMAN in AFI’s “Behind the Scene” video with the film’s composer Terence Blanchard as he breaks down a scene from today’s award-winning film:


Movie Trivia About Today’s Film


Former police detective Ron Stallworth originally wanted Denzel Washington to play him in a film about his life. He was thrilled when John David Washington, the acting icon’s eldest son, was cast in the role. 


John David Washington made his movie debut as a six-year-old Harlem classroom student in Spike Lee’s MALCOLM X, which featured both his father, Denzel Washington, and his grandmother, Lennis Washington.   

To get into character, John David Washington called Ron Stallworth weekly leading up to the shoot. Washington took pages of notes, asking his real-life counterpart everything from what to do during a sting operation to what kind of dancer he was during his disco days.


Laura Harrier, who plays Black activist Patrice Dumas, was inspired in part by Katherine Cleaver, a central figure in the Black Panther movement. Harrier was able to meet with Cleaver and ask questions about what it was like as a social justice reformer in the 1970s.   


BLACKKKLANSMAN contains clips from D.W. Griffith’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION, which was shown at the White House in 1915 and is credited with leading to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in America. When director Spike Lee was a film student at NYU, he was so outraged after being taught the film with no mention of its racist message that he made the film THE ANSWER as a response. 


Topher Grace, who plays Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke in BLACKKKLANSMAN, spent a month researching the part, listening to tapes of Duke’s lectures and reading his autobiography. Grace has said, “He puts this different face on racism that made it more palatable. Some people are asking if I was too likable. But I think the likable part of it is what makes him so evil.” 


On the last day of filming, the production filmed the scene in which actor and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte, who plays Jerome Turner, recounts to the student union the experience of witnessing Jesse Washington’s lynching and burning by a white mob. For this moment, Spike Lee had the crew wear tuxedos in his honor.  


BLACKKKLANSMAN was nominated for six Academy Awards® including Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Score, Best Actor in a Supporting role (Adam Driver) and Best Film Editing. With the film’s Best Adapted Screenplay win, Spike Lee took home his first Oscar®. 


Composer Terence Blanchard, who was nominated for an Oscar® for his BLACKKKLANSMAN score, has collaborated with director Spike Lee for more than three decades, beginning with SCHOOL DAZE in 1988. 


The film is dedicated to Heather Heyer, who was run down and killed by a white nationalist while protesting the “Unite the Right” rally held on August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, VA. Spike Lee asked Susan Bro – Heyer’s mother – for permission to use footage of the event. The film opened in the U.S. on August 10, 2018, to mark the first anniversary of the rally and to honor Heyer’s life. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

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-How is the character of Ron Stallworth conflicted by his identity as a police officer and his identity as a Black man? In what way are police portrayed in a positive or negative light throughout the film? 

-What is the role of irony and humor in this story? How do you think Ron Stallworth was able to ultimately infiltrate the KKK? 

-How was the Stallworth able to conduct himself as a police officer and remain calm even when confronted with the Ku Klux Klan’s racism? 

-Why do you think Ron Stallworth is captivated by the Black activism embodied by Kwame Ture? 

-How does Flip’s Judaism factor into the narrative? How does it open up a conversation about passing and privilege? 

-How does the character of Patrice, played by Laura Harrier, expand the representation of progressive Black womanhood? How is making her the President of the Student Union empowering? What indignities does she suffer and how does she channel that anger into fighting back throughout the film? 

-How does the film portray the white female members of the KKK? How do they serve as foot soldiers for the patriarchy? 

-How does the film, which is set in America in the 1970s, mirror what is happening in our current political climate? Has the U.S. made much racial progress since the 1970s? How and how not? 

-Do you think Spike Lee used THE BIRTH OF A NATION effectively? What do you think he was trying to communicate by incorporating footage of the infamous film during the banquet scene? 

-How would you characterize BLACKKKLANSMAN stylistically? How does Spike Lee incorporate the style of 1970s blaxploitation films throughout the film? 

-Why do you think Spike Lee chose to end the film with the Charlottesville protests? What is the impact of using documentary footage of Heather Heyer’s murder by a white supremacist? 

-How would you rate BLACKKKLANSMAN? 

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