Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman was anticipated even before the bio-drama won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last May. The Focus Features release has become the Brooklyn-based filmmaker’s most successful box office title since 2006’s Inside Man. 

Adapted from the book of the same title by Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs, CO in the ‘70s, Lee told the audience at The Contenders NY that the film is not merely a little-known historical throwback. He was drawn by the true story, in part because of its relevance today. 

“Going into my fourth decade making films, timing is everything. For this film, it happened [as a result] of the difficult times we live in,” Lee said.  

John David Washington stars as Stallworth, the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to distinguish himself, he set out on a dangerous mission — infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. Soon, he recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman, (Adam Driver) to join him. Together, the duo take down the hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to a mainstream audience. 

“My co-writer, Kevin Willmott, and I knew we could connect [BlacKkKlansman] to today,” Lee said. “I know it takes place in the ‘70s, but we thought, ‘Wait a minute.’ The Klan [flourished] in the 1920s, but this [societal hatred] is recycled.”

It may be oddly apropos that today’s Contenders event at the DGA Theater in New York is only blocks away from Trump Tower. Though the talent and filmmakers have yet to mention POTUS by name, he has nevertheless loomed, with many on stage calling out the ‘dark times’ that have become backdrops to their movies. 

“He puts a mirror of society up to you, but he doesn’t throw it down your throat,” effused Laura Harrier, who plays Patrice Dumas in the film. 

Actor John David Washington, who stars as Ron Stallworth, said that meeting the former detective was a cornerstone in helping him shape his onscreen portrayal. On one occasion, Stallworth shared a haunting momento from his time inside the Klan.

“Ron kept his KKK card. He showed it to us and it’s signed by David Duke,” said Washington. “He was extremely generous with all of his information. We talked [extensively] man to man about being black in the ‘70s… It was a dream come true.”