John David Washington, Denzel Washington’s son and one of the stars of HBO’s Ballers, is in negotiations to star in the dramatic crime thriller that is gearing up to shoot this fall with Focus Features distributing.
Lee will direct and produce the movie with Peele producing via his banner Monkeypaw Productions, along with Sean McKittrick, Shaun Redick and Raymond Mansfield of QC Entertainment and Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions. The latter group teamed up previously to produce Peele’s groundbreaking horror thriller Get Out, a box-office sensation of early 2017.
Klansman tells the story of Ron Stallworth, a detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who in 1978 answered an ad in the local newspaper seeking new Klan members. He not only gained membership, but rose through the ranks to become the head of the local chapter. Stallworth, who is black, was able to gather all sorts of intelligence by pretending to be a white supremacist on the phone or via other forms of correspondence but sent a white fellow officer in his place for any in-person meetings. During his undercover work, Stallworth managed to sabotage several cross-burnings and other activities of the notorious hate group.
Stallworth, who will be played by Washington, wrote about his experience in a 2014 book titled Black Klansman. The title is not connected to The Black Klansman, a Blaxploitation revenge thriller from 1966 that told of an African-American man who joins the KKK in order to seek vengeance for the death of his daughter.
The screenplay adapting Stallworth’s autobiography was penned by the writing team of Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz as well as by Spike Lee and Kevin Willmont.
Even though the project sounds like it may be ripped from today’s headlines, Lee, Peele and the producers have been quietly working on the movie for at least two years. Redick brought the book to QC, with QC then approaching Blumhouse and Monkeypaw following the companies’ successful partnership on Get Out.
QC’s Edward H. Hamm Jr. will serve as executive producer. Focus president of production Josh McLaughlin will oversee for the company.
The team-up between Lee and Peele is momentous because it represents two black filmmakers from different generations working on a socially conscious project that couldn’t be more timely given the recent racial unrest in America.
Lee has often tackled race relations with movies such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X while Peele’s Get Out generated plenty of conversation as the White House was changing occupants. Lee is said to have watched Get Out numerous times in the theater while Peele has cited Lee as an inspiration and role model.
Lee is repped by ICM Partners and Grubman Shire. Washington, who is currently filming and starring in a Sundance Labs project titled Monsters and Men and will be seen in Old Man and the Gun with Casey Affleck and Robert Redford, is repped by WME.
Wachtel and Rabinowitz are repped by Pierce Law Group while Stallworth was repped by Andrew Frances. Peele is repped by CAA, Principato Young and Jared Levine.
This story originally appeared in The Hollywood Reporter