EL PASO, Texas - Director Spike Lee's latest film is based on the career of an El Paso man who went on to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
"BlacKkKlansman" is in competition for Cannes Film Festival's prestigious Palme d'Or award. It is the true-life tale of African-American police detective Ron Stallworth, played in the film by John David Washington. In 1979, Stallworth infiltrated a Colorado Springs, Colorado cell of the Ku Klux Klan.
ABC-7 interviewed Stallworth in July 2014 shortly before the release of his book "Black Klansman." At the time, Stallworth said he hope he could motivate younger generations to fight racism. "Fight back, challenge them, stand up to them, do not cower in fear," Stallworth said passionately.
Stallworth was as member of the KKK during a nine month long police investigation in the late 1970s. He joined by responding to a classified newspaper ad.
"David Duke processed my application fee, he processed my membership card, he put it in the mail to me," Stallworth described.
Stallworth, born and raised in El Paso, was the first black detective and youngest in Colorado Springs Police Department Intelligence Unit.
"I carry that card in my wallet and I've carried it since 1979 when it was handed to me," Stallworth said.
His membership was successful by having a white colleague pose during face-to-face meetings. He met Duke, a former grand wizard of the Knights of KKK, face to face but was introduced simply as a detective assigned to be Duke's body guard while he visited Colorado.
"They're no different than you or I except they have a racial belief ... a belief in the superiority of themselves over anyone that doesn't look like them," Stallworth explained.
Filmmaker Lee told the AP he made what he knew would be a commentary on race in America. During a summer weekend in Martha's Vineyard, he saw TV news of the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent in clashes with counter-protesters. Anti-racism activist Heather Heyer was run over and killed.
Former KKK leader David Duke, who's played in the film by Topher Grace, was part of the rally. After it, President Donald Trump blamed "both sides" for the violence. For Lee, it was a "defining moment" for Trump and the United States.
Lee decided to end "BlacKkKlansman" with footage from Charlottesville and of Trump's speech. The film concludes with the image of an upside-down black-and-white American flag.
"Those terrorist groups wrote themselves into the film," Lee said in an interview. "The real-life David Duke wrote himself into the film. The president of the United States wrote himself into the film. They gave us an ending we're not good enough to write."
Focus Features will release the film in August on the anniversary of Charlottesville.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE