It’s no accident that this past weekend—a year to the day after Charlottesville—saw the premiere of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. That event and its repercussions had been on Lee’s mind throughout production. Off the back of a healthy rollout for the film—with Lee’s best box office results in over a decade—the resonance between the story of Ron Stallworth, the cop of went undercover and infiltrated the KKK, couldn’t be more urgent.
Sitting down in Cannes with Deadline’s Joe Utichi just a few months ago, two of the film’s producers—Raymond Mansfield and Sean McKittrick—explained the genesis of the project and the process of bringing it to the screen.
Going into BlacKkKlansman with producers Jason Blum and Jordan Peele, the QC Entertainment partners were already well acquainted with the creatives, having worked together on Peele’s Oscar-winning Get Out. The process on Lee’s film began with young writers (and eventual co-producers) Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz, who brought Ron Stallworth’s memoir to the table. A real story too extraordinary and bizarre to be believed, Black Klansman followed a younger Stallworth—the first African-American police detective in Colorado Springs’ precinct—who not only infiltratated the KKK but became the head of the organization’s local chapter.
“We read the book [and] we said, ‘This is stranger than fiction, this is crazy. We have to be involved with this movie,’” Mansfield recalled. At that point, the producers eagerly pursued a meeting with Stallworth himself. “We started to develop a relationship with Ron, and through those conversations, we learned even more than was in the book, and we were then so much more committed to seeing this movie get made,” Mansfield said.
From early on, Peele saw that there was only one director who could do BlacKkKlansman justice: Spike Lee. Hearing this, Mansfield and McKittrick required no convincing, though they never really believed they’d be able to secure Lee for the project. To their surprise, within two days of receiving the script, the director had signed on to the film. Following a pass on the script by Lee and his writing partner, Kevin Willmott, the project came together with stunning speed. “We’re still kind of spinning at how quickly it happened,” McKittrick admitted. Per Mansfield, BlacKkKlansman was “one of the fastest projects, from getting the book to production, that we’ve ever been involved with.”
In conversation with Deadline near the time of the film’s world premiere, the producers reflected on what it is that makes Lee such an invaluable filmmaker. “Spike’s specialty is his strength of perspective. It’s very impressive and important,” Mansfield said.
“He’s made some of the most important films of all time,” McKittrick added, “let alone paving the way for thousands of filmmakers.”
For more from our conversation with the producers of BlacKkKlansman, take a look above.