Once an undercover police officer, now the subject of an Oscar-winning movie, retired detective and author Ron Stallworth—the central figure in Spike Lee’s 2018 “BlacKkKlansman”—admits he’s still adjusting to the limelight.
“I’m trying hard to adapt to this ‘celebrity’ gig,” laughs Stallworth, speaking on the phone from Fort Worth, Texas, where he was participating in a Fourth of July book distribution event.
Stallworth appears in Sonoma on Thursday, July 11, at a Sonoma International Film Festival event. In addition to a meet-and-greet with Stallworth and his wife Patsy—to whom he dedicated his book and who shares all public appearances with him—Stallworth will appear onstage at the Sebastiani Theatre, following a screening of “BlacKkKlansman.”
Based on his bestselling 2014 memoir, the movie stars John David Washington and Adam Driver. It relates the story of Stallworth’s time with the Colorado Springs Police Department and his successful infiltration of the area’s Ku Klux Klan. The movie received six Oscar nominations, including Best Film. It won for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Asked why he wrote the book after years of relative silence, Stallworth says there was never any real secrecy—he’s shared the story with friends and family many times.
“I freely showed people my KKK membership card, which I still carry,” he admits. “I just never told the press. But when I’d tell people, they all said basically the same thing: ‘There ought to be a book.'”
The film adaptation, unsurprisingly, takes some liberties with the truth. Still, Lee’s script sticks fairly closely to the real story, in which Stallworth, in the ’70s, engaged in several phone conversations with local klansmen, then coordinated with white undercover detectives who made face-to-face contact with the Klan while pretending to be Stallworth.
One surprising outcome of the book and movie’s release is it corrected the widely held assumption the KKK was essentially extinct.
“I have to tell people all the time,” Stallworth says, “white supremacists have always been around, and they will always be around. And now, Donald Trump has given them the microphone, and white supremacy is taking full advantage of that. But I’m here to tell you, there are no good Nazis, I don’t care how you slice it. There’s no such thing as a good Nazi—I don’t care what the president says.”