Colorado College made its world cinematic debut on Aug. 10 this year in none other than Spike Lee’s most recent film, “BlacKkKlansman”. The film depicts the Colorado College Black Student Union as the cinematic opposition to the Colorado Springs Klu Klux Klan. Amidst these warring factions the film’s protagonist, the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Ron Stallworth, goes undercover with the Klan and ultimately saves the day.
Once you get over the excruciating irony of a black man infiltrating the Klan, things seem to become more digestible. The film takes place in the 1970s in streets that look nothing like ours, with dialogue that we can assume would never reach the lips of the well-cultured audiences of 2018. Audiences laugh, perhaps uncomfortably, at the notion that Ron Stallworth is on the phone exchanging pleasantries with Grand Wizard of the Klan, David Duke.
Everything from film reviews to blog posts and audience recaps declare the film a rousing success, and a daring few have undertaken the challenge to call audiences into something deeper; not a phenomenal cinematic experience but a heart-stopping realization: the Klan is back. A statement like that is simultaneously sensational enough to require explanation, while hardly news at all.
The KKK is known as the “Invisible Empire,” so termed because its chapters admittedly fizzle in and out and membership fluctuates yearly, but even still the organization has managed to survive for over 150 years.
Succinctly described, the Klan has had three major movements during its existence, each time taking on a different name, different approach, and slightly different ideology. The second Klan revival in the 1920s saw Colorado awash with the supremacist group from the grass roots all the way to the governor’s mansion. Then governor Clarence Morley was a self-avowed Klan member. Morley was joined in the Klan by Denver’s police chief and countless others across the state.
Surprisingly though, Colorado was Klan country in nearly every place except here in Colorado Springs. Though Colorado Springs has always been conservative, local party leaders at the time wanted nothing to do with the Klan and the local police chief saw them as vagrants. The community even went so far as to march against the Klan after activity in the area.
When the Klan surged again during the civil rights era, they again took to Colorado Springs where “BlacKkKansman” takes place. The story is largely true, other than Adam Driver’s character. A white cop did infiltrate the Klan on a person-to-person basis, but that officer was not Jewish. Stallworth wrote and published a book on his experiences and the spectacle has even drawn the attention of David Duke, who took to twitter to decry the barbarous nature the Klan is depicted with. The tweet is not worth publishing.
Years after the events of Blackkklansman, the country struggles on with contentions debates on racism, debates that director Spike Lee clearly cites. Klan leaders in the film (as they did in real life) chant aloud the need to “Make America Great Again!” While there are no current Klan chapters in Colorado Springs there are other white supremacist groups working in the Springs such as the Proud Boys of Colorado. The Proud Boys are an organization that denies being racist but the Southern Poverty Law Center writes, “their disavowals of bigotry are belied by their actions: rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist memes and maintain affiliations with known extremists.” This spin-off white supremacist group is one of countless others that has taken the modern stage in what seems to be the newest set of heads in the “Invisible Empire.” As early as Aug. 25, white supremacist literature has been found all around the region, sparking fears that Blackkklansman may be a film closer to home than originally imagined.
The film hits Colorado College as the campus continues to wage it’s own anti-racist agenda in the wake of a racist, trans-antagonistic email sent to campus last semester. President Jill Tiefenthaler has already sent an email detailing a specific anti-racist agenda here on campus including retooling the Title IX team to also deal with discrimination of non-sexual nature. On the student’s part, the Colorado College BSU is coming off last year’s victory as black students effectively galvanized the faculty to eliminate the West in Time requirement. Efforts are also underway to unearth Colorado College’s rich history of diverse students, including the BSU-planned Kwame Ture visit that features in Blackkklansman. With any luck student researchers will be able to make up for years of lost storytelling. The Colorado College has offered its lukewarm embrace to the film, mentioning it only briefly in one page on the website, though the College does have plans to bring Ron Stallworth to the campus in the upcoming months.
“Blackkklansman” focuses a poignant spotlight on Colorado Springs and Colorado College that should hopefully ensure we are using the light to heavily and honestly examine ourselves in an effort to get towards an anti-racist agenda.