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'BlacKkKlansman' star John David Washington reflects during Fim Festival Q&A
The star of the acclaimed Spike Lee film speaks to the timeliness of Ron Stallworth's story
John David Washington - photo by Ted Comerford

SEVERAL TIMES during the SCAD Savannah Film Festival’s screening of BlacKkKlansman at the Lucas Theatre, the dialogue was momentarily inaudible due to either the immense laughter or rapturous applause that would erupt from the audience. It’s not a surprising reaction given the critical and commercial success that the film has achieved since its release.

Even its star - Distinguished Performance Award recipient John David Washington - reacted to several moments in the film while he sat amongst the crowd, as if it was the first time he’d seen it.

BlacKkKlansman is as relevant to the current political climate as it is to the time in which the film is set. For those unaware, the movie follows the story of Colorado Springs Police detective Ron Stallworth as he infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s to gain intel about potential attacks. Washington portrayed Stallworth - a real-life detective who wrote a book that the film is based on - brilliantly, injecting the right amount of humor into a dark but equally bizarre story.

The Spike Lee-helmed film was followed by a Q&A with Washington, who spoke about getting the role and the process of working on such a heavy piece of work.

“I got a text from him in April of last year,” Washington said of being approached by Lee for the role. “He said, ‘It’s Spike. Call me.’ I don’t hear from Spike ever.” When Lee called him to talk about the project, the legendary director pitched him the story based on Stallworth’s book.

“I can’t believe what I’m reading,” Washington said. “I called him back and said, ‘This is crazy. I can’t believe what I’m reading.’ He says, ‘Do you like it?’ I’m like, ‘I love it. This is nuts, man.’ He says, ‘Alright, I’ll see you this summer.’”

Washington spoke to the comedic elements of the film during his Q&A, saying that the reason there’s so much to laugh at is because the entire situation truly was that absurd. His assessment was spot on - the comedy comes from the fact that it’s one of the most unbelievable stories to come out of that period of time, and even the level of complete cold-blooded hatred and ignorance from the klan members makes you laugh, at times, in absolute disbelief.

Washington also touched on how relevant the film and Stallworth’s story is to the time we live in, given in particular the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the “America First” dog whistle of the current administration.

“This is a period piece, but this is a very contemporary, time-sensitive subject,” he said. “It shows you how generational hate is. I think you see that throughout the film.”

During the audience portion of the Q&A, one viewer asked about Washington’s experience shooting a movie with such intense racially-charged dialogue and hate speech.

“I wouldn’t have done this film for any other director. I don’t think any other director could have handled this tone and understood the importance of this message. I felt so comfortable in what I was doing,” Washington responded.

“It was hard for all the cast members. They’ll tell you it was extremely difficult to put those hoodies on, but we understood that it was in service of the message. If we could spark a person like you to make actual change, we’ll follow you. Our job is to create and to hold a mirror up, if we have to.”