Movie News & Reviews

‘It’s just a wonderful thing’: KU professor nominated for Oscar for ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Kevin Willmott is having a moment: ‘Becoming Martin’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Kevin Willmott, a film professor at the University of Kansas, wrote the play "Becoming Martin," about teenage Martin Luther King Jr. It premieres at the Coterie theater this month. Willmott co-wrote the movie "BlacKkKlansman."
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Kevin Willmott, a film professor at the University of Kansas, wrote the play "Becoming Martin," about teenage Martin Luther King Jr. It premieres at the Coterie theater this month. Willmott co-wrote the movie "BlacKkKlansman."

Filmmaker and University of Kansas professor Kevin Willmott has his calendar marked for Feb. 24.

That’s when he’ll be up for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for his work on “BlacKkKlansman.” On Tuesday, the film received six nominations, which also include the big one — best picture — as well as director (Spike Lee), supporting actor (Adam Driver), original score (Terence Blanchard) and editing (Barry Alexander Brown).

“It’s just a wonderful thing,” Willmott said Tuesday. “It’s a huge honor and it’s a great feeling to be associated with something that addresses a problem going on right now in the country.”

Willmott said he plans to attend the Oscars ceremony.

“You grow up as a kid watching the thing,” he said. “I used to watch it with my mother, and you fantasize about things, all of that, never really believing it would come true. It makes you think about where you came from, your parents and your teachers and all the people that help you along the way.”

Willmott shares his screenwriting nomination with Lee, David Rabinowitz and Charlie Wachtel.

They are up against Joel and Ethan Coen for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”; Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters and Eric Roth for “A Star Is Born”; Barry Jenkins for “If Beale Street Could Talk”; and Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, infiltrated the local Ku Klux Klan. The true story is told in this movie directed by Spike Lee and co-written by Kevin Willmott of Lawrence.

“BlacKkKlansman” is based on the real-life story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American police officer in Colorado Springs, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s. Stallworth appeared in Kansas City earlier this month in a conversation with Willmott. In the film, John David Washington plays Stallworth; Driver plays his partner in the police investigation.

Last spring the biopic won the prestigious Grand Prix at the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in France. It’s just the fourth American movie to receive this honor (the festival’s second-highest award) since the category debuted in 1967.

“I’ve worked a lot with Spike the last couple of years, and it was a profound moment to share that with him,” Willmott told The Star at the time.

Willmott has directed his own features, including “C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America” (which Lee executive-produced), “Jayhawkers” and “The Only Good Indian.” He had also worked with Lee on 2015’s “Chi-Raq,” about gun violence in Chicago.

Willmott wrote the play “Becoming Martin” about the teenage Martin Luther King Jr. It premiered in September at the Coterie theater.

Willmott and his three co-writers are also up for the adapted screenplay award from the Writers Guild of America, which will announce winners Feb. 17.

The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will be broadcast Feb. 24 on ABC. “Roma” and “The Favourite” lead the nominations with 10 each.

Star Editorial Board members Colleen McCain Nelson and Toriano Porter talked with Kevin Willmott, a filmmaker and KU professor, on Thurs., June 14, 2018. In this excerpt, Willmott discusses racism and President Trump.

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