About The Production
From Production Design to Art Direction, Camerawork to Costume Design, every
effort was made to recreate the details of the era. The 1970's aesthetic also
influenced the overall look of the film, with Cinematographer Chayse Irvin
shooting on classic 35mm stock and drawing inspiration from such classics of the
period as The French Connection. But when developing certain shots or sequences,
both Lee and Irvin embraced a spirit of iImprovisation-mixing formats and
approaches to create a more experimental, more contemporary feel. (A bracing
black-and-white segment featuring Alec Baldwin as a vile bigot spewing racist
invective was shot on Ektachrome during Pre-Production.)
"I never want The Director or Myself or The Actors to feel really boxed in by
a particular idea," Irvin says. "We were kind of feeling things out. We started
reacting to things as they were developing, especially off the actors, feeding
off that energy."
The approach of marrying 35mm film with Super 16 video, GoPro and other
formats was one that had worked well for Irvin in his projects with the visual
artist Kahil Joseph including Beyonce's Epic Video
Album Lemonade, and one that the Cinematographer credits Lee with pioneering.
"He was doing that back in the day, too, with Malcolm X and Clockers," Irvin
says. "He was playing with a lot of different processes."
Production designer Curt Beech sought to highlight the different worlds of
the film visually while at the same time using the sets and environments to
underline the themes at work in the script. Ron's apartment was hip, progressive
and cool, while Felix's house-the home of the character played by Jasper
Paakkonen that routinely hosts local Klan meetings-was rooted entirely in the
past. "I thought it was important to show the Klan members not as a bunch of
backroom rednecks but as the people next door," says Beech, who previously
worked with Spike Lee on his Netflix series, "She's Gotta Have It." "The living
room should be pretty nice, a place that seems fairly comfortable and ordinary,
but at the same time dated and that the ideas that are shared there are dated
and outmoded. These are not the ideas of the future."
The Police Precinct where Ron worked hovered somewhere in between, Beech
says. The basic design dates to the 1950's, but the place is now worse for the
wear, covered in tobacco stains. "It's this slightly older space that is a
little outdated and in need of a facelift, both physically and conceptually," he
says. "They need to rethink their policing and who they're hiring."
Both Ron's apartment and Felix's house were practical locations-Ron's home
was found in Brooklyn, while Felix's residence was located upstate in Ossining,
New York, the same town that doubled in certain scenes for downtown Colorado
Springs. Beech and his team sourced authentic vintage furniture for both homes
as well as equipment for Felix's basement print shop. "That basement is a pretty
well-organized nerve center for the organization," Beech says. "It was a place
where they were producing literature, sending word out. If it were today, it
would be very modern, almost Mission: Impossible-style, so scary and
well-funded. I was after the 1970s version of that."
The Precinct was outfitted with period-appropriate props from the desks and
chairs to the typewriters and ashtrays-even the pencil holders. Tellingly, Ron's
desk is somewhat smaller than all the others and positioned in the far corner so
that the other officers' backs face him. "It was a very purposeful arrangement
to ostracize him from the rest of The Cops," Beech says.
In terms of color, Beech opted for a more muted palette of neutral browns,
dark greens and dark reds, so that the white of the Klan robes would stand out
in stark contrast. It was a decision he arrived at in concert with Costume
Designer Marci Rodgers, who also previously worked with Lee on "She's Gotta Have
It"; The Department Heads wanted to ensure that Washington as Ron would be
noticeable and distinct in every scene, so his costumes became just a bit
brighter than those worn by the people around him.
For her part, Rodgers began preparing for BlacKkKlansman by watching both
Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. Her research also took her to the
Library of Congress and to Howard University-her
Alma Mater and The Alma Mater of Kwame Ture-where she reviewed historical
documents and periodicals from the era.
"It was interesting to go through those archives and see his journals-at that
point, he was Stokely Carmichael. He hadn't gone to Africa," Rodgers says. "Even
to see that change and that transition within these documents [was useful]. Then
also I was able to look at archival Ebony Magazines, Jet Magazines. I was just
going through every book within that era, taking pictures and really looking at
what people wore, even the hair accessories. The accoutrements were really a
thing back then. It was really about the jewelry, like the beads, the necklaces,
things like that."
To dress Topher Grace as David Duke, Rodgers reviewed archival photos of the
Klan Leader, taking note of certain telling details. "I noticed that David Duke,
he wore fat ties or stripes," she says. Historical images of such Black Power
icons as Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver directly inspired Patrice's look: "At
the time, The Women kinda had a uniform that were a part of that movement,"
Actress Laura Harrier says that the costume was vital in helping her feel
comfortable as the young intellectual. "I've always wanted to do a movie in the
'70's," Harrier says. "I've always loved The Clothes and The Music and Films,
and it was really important, too, in finding the character. Once I put on that
Afro Wig and had The Black Leather Jacket and had The Glasses, she just kind of
dropped into me. It was really instrumental in making Patrice for sure."
Rodgers procured prime vintage fashions for the film, but for the character
of Ron, she created certain iconic pieces including his denim walking suit and
his period-correct marshmallow shoes. Spike Lee also requested that Rodgers put
Washington in a classic pair of Nike Cortez. "I was fortunate enough to meet Ron
Stallworth and I asked him what he wore," Rodgers says. "He told me some days he
would wear a walking suit. He would wear jewelry here and there that kinda made
him feel like he was smooth, so to speak. I would see John David put on his
costume and transform. It was real, like we actually had teleported back to the
'70s, and that's all I really wanted."
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