Throughout the years of his epic filmmaking career, Spike Lee has crafted a bevy of tangible and poignant stories that mirror the complexities of the black experience in America. No one can deny his genius. On the latest addition to his extensive catalogue, BlacKkKlansman, the veteran tells the story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), a black police officer in the ’70s who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and fooled its xenophobic leader David Duke (played by Topher Grace).
With his white redneck faux accent, Washington (yes, Denzel’s son) excels on his first feature film. The story starts out with him playing an undercover cop at a Colorado Springs Black Students Union event where Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins) gives a Black Panther speech. There, he meets the beautiful Patrice (Laura Harrier), a fierce activist who loathes any form of authority and radically advocates for black people. Because he is a cop, he attempts at hiding his profession from her in efforts to pursue her.
For Harrier, the part was an eye-opening experience about the Black Panthers. Her character in the film is based on Black Panther activist, Kathleen Cleaver. “What I really took away was how young she was when this was happening,” Harrier told VIBE about Cleaver’s influence. “Reading and seeing her at the height of the Panthers. They seem like these mythical heroes—she was like 21, 22 at the time. She was this person that stood up for what she believed, and started to stand up for what she thought was right.”
Following his father’s footsteps, Washington nailed the part. It was a no-brainer for Spike to cast him. So much so, that an audition wasn’t necessary. “I knew he could do it,” Lee said. “I had 100 percent confidence in him. I did not ask him to audition or read for me. I said, ‘Here, let’s do it.’ And he delivered.”
On a recent Sunday afternoon in New York City, VIBE caught up with Spike, John David Washington and Laura Harrier where they talked about the empowering message of the film, and what black power means to them. Watch the interviews below.