But Stallworth was onto something: The role eventually went to Denzel’s 34-year-old son, John David Washington. “It’s ironic that it evolved to the point where his son actually got the part,” says Stallworth, 65, “and I am 100 percent pleased with what he did with it. I couldn’t be happier that he’s the one that brought me to life on the screen.”
Stallworth, whose book was reissued in June, had final approval on the screenplay written by David Rabinowitz and Charlie Wachtel that made its way to producer Jordan Peele (“Get Out”). He then took it to Lee. “And Spike said, ‘Is this true?’ ” says Stallworth of the outlandish story of how he, as the first black police detective in Colorado Springs, Colo., began getting intel on the KKK through phone calls with them while masquerading as a white recruit. “Jordan assured him that it was, and Spike said, ‘I’m in.’”
A fan of Lee’s work — “My favorite Spike Lee joint is ‘Malcolm X’ ” — Stallworth got to meet with the director last October, when he was invited to Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule headquarters in Brooklyn for a cast read-through. “Spike asked me to address the cast, to tell them my story firsthand, and then I had a Q&A with them,” he says.
Stallworth notes that there is some artistic license taken in the film, including the addition of a love interest, Patrice (Laura Harrier), for his character, as well as a climactic event that didn’t take place in real life. Meanwhile, the white detective (played by Adam Driver) — who doubled as Stallworth for in-person meetings with the KKK — is called Flip Zimmerman in the film, but that’s not his real name. (In the memoir, he is given the alias “Chuck.”)
In fact, Stallworth says that his undercover partner didn’t want to be involved from the get-go with the book. “He was offered the opportunity to contribute in terms of telling his side of the story,” he says, “and basically said he had enough.”
Sadly, Stallworth says, the racist hate that is depicted in the movie is still happening today. “We’re still having the struggle. I thought we had made progress,” says Stallworth, who is now retired and living with his wife in El Paso, Texas. He still carries his KKK membership card in his wallet as a powerful reminder. “Forty years later and the same things are happening. We’re going backwards instead of forward.”