“It’s pretty accurate actually,” Charlie Wachtel tells TooFab of Topher Grace’s portrayal of the former Klu Klux Klan Grand Wizard.
"BlacKkKlansman" co-writer and co-producer Charlie Wachtel expected former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke to slam the critically acclaimed Spike Lee joint as "anti-white" and inaccurate — without having seen it when making the allegations — but he countered in an interview with TooFab that it’s all in the former Grand Wizard’s head.
"It’s kind of expected for him to say that because you have this film that was written by two black guys and two white Jewish guys," Wachtel said. "And Duke is always saying how there’s a Zionist agenda with the Jews and media. So he probably watched some Spike Lee films and he has crafted his own judgment of determining that they were ‘anti white.’ And so he’s making the assumption that this film will, to his own beliefs, live up to a that label."
Duke is portrayed as a chief antagonist by actor Topher Grace in the crime dramedy that tells the (mostly) true story of how an African-American Colorado Springs detective, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), teamed up with his white partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), to successfully infiltrate the KKK. Stallworth duped Duke and other klansmen over the phone while Zimmerman — whose name was changed for the film — played the part for face-to-face meetings. Stallworth even became an official member of the racist organization in 1979 after launching the historic sting operation.
Despite Duke trying to dump on the film for inaccuracies and being misrepresented, Wachtel told TooFab, "I think his portrayal, it’s pretty accurate actually."
In fact, Wachtel went as far as to say Duke is "probably one of the more accurately depicted characters in the movie," applauding Grace for avoiding the "cartoonish route" and keeping the character "grounded and real."
"Topher Grace, his performance, he doesn’t try to do anything outside of the character too much," he said. "Very low key performance, and that’s because he doesn’t have to be extravagant. The words that are coming out of his character’s mouth, they say enough, that’s all you need to know about the character and the man who the character is based on."
Duke used his podcast to lash out at the film last week. "It’s not true to history," he argued.
"This is one of the most vilest, anti-white movies that’s ever been made," Duke said, adding the film is "biased hate propaganda against President Donald Trump and of course me."
One of the issues Duke takes with the big screen adaptation of Stallworth’s memoir? The white partner involved in the undercover operation wasn’t Jewish.
Duke theorized on his podcast that the character was made Jewish to glorify the ethnicity he firmly believes runs Hollywood and the media, but Wachtel has a simpler answer: the fictional character trait was added simply for dramatic effect.
"I think it was for practical reasons. It allows for more conflict in the story," the screenwriter told us. "It was actually my partner David’s idea do that early on in the process because we thought to ourselves, ‘Okay, if Ron Stallworth is going to be doing all this police work over the phone, we’re going to be with the white character a lot who is infiltrating the Klan in person. So we may as well make it more interesting by raising the stakes and there’s no better way to raise the stakes and to actually give the character more of the personal investment in the case.’"
The creative choice was on full display in the first trailer for the movie that debuted in theaters last Friday to $10.8 million at the North American box office and a 97 percent approval rating from critics counted on Rotten Tomatoes. Wachtel doesn’t really t
Wachtel suspected Duke was bashing the film more out of ego than concerns about its accuracy, and stressed it’s rare for any movie adaptation of a real-life account to be "100 percent true," and this movie is no exception..
"This is definitely not 100 percent true, but I think Duke, in making these claims, he’s in damage control. He’s trying to give a bunch of reasons for why people shouldn’t see this movie and he’s afraid of his reputation," Wachtel said. "He’s afraid to be in the public spotlight, having been completely duped by an African-American decades back, and I don’t know if he worries his base is going to think differently of him. Everybody else already knows that thing about him."
Stallworth appeared on "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt" alongside director Spike Lee ahead of the movie’s release, and mentioned that Duke called him with concerns over his portrayal. "He’s only seen the trailer and in the trailer, it makes him off to be a buffoonish cartoonish idiot," Stallworth said.
When Holt asked if "cartoonish" was a fair description, Stallworth replied, "In some areas, yeah. Spike made him look kind of stupid, but he was stupid in how this whole thing transpired 40 years ago."
Wachtel got the inside scoop on the conversation from Stallworth, too, telling TooFab that Duke "repeatedly denied that he’s racist on the phone call."
"Ron would tell him, ‘You know I enjoyed our conversation decades back. Except for the parts of the conversation that would become a little bit racist,’" Wachtel added. "And Duke would contend that he’s not a racist and he would very quickly change the subject."
"So there’s clearly some kind of denial going on with, with him and his own personal beliefs. He takes a lot of pride in the fact that he doesn’t use the N-word. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not a racist."
Although "BlacKkKlansman" is very topical and offers social commentary on events unfolding in 2018 through the lens of this period piece, Wachtel thinks it’s just a really entertaining film, at the end of the day.
"I think it’s just a fun piece of entertainment," he said. "It’s a movie for our time today. I think every now and then a movie comes along that helps you reflect on the way the world is today. I think people will appreciate this as being one of those movies."
"BlacKkKlansman" is in theaters now.
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