Daryl Davis has an unusual hobby. Though primarily known as an accomplished musician who has performed all over the world with legends like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, in his spare time he likes to meet and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. Daryl has built his relationships person by person and his campaign has proved remarkably effective. Many members of the KKK he has connected with have been forced to reconsider their beliefs, with some even leaving the organization as a result.
Davis has collected hoods, robes and other artifacts from friends who have left the Klan, building a collection piece by piece, story by story, person by person in hopes of eventually opening a “Museum of the Klan.”
ACCIDENTAL COURTESY is a rare and powerful portrait of a man who has truly embodied the idea that real and profound change happens best when it is one-on-one. It is a controversial concept that not everyone agrees with, but one that seems particularly important in the wake of the recent election.
Director Matt Ornstein shows us all sides of the argument as he takes us on an intimate and inspiring journey into Davis’ life. He seeks out old friends he inspired to leave the Klan and those still active in the organization today, as well as academics, civil rights activists, and neo-Nazis as he attempts to answer his lifelong question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Working on this one-on-one level, Mr. Davis proved that “it is possible that change can occur” between seemingly irreconcilable people.
It’s garnered many awards for first time feature Director Matt Orienstien including -SXSW FILM FESTIVAL Special Jury Award for Portrait Documentary, NASHVILLE FILM FESTIVAL Nashville Public Television Human Spirit Award, CHAGRIN FALLS DOCUMENTARY FESTIVAL Jury Award Best Film, NAPA VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL Jury Prize & ATHENS FILM FESTIVAL Jury Prize.
Though his music career is not the focus here, Davis is a boogie-woogie pianist who, since the 1980s, has played with The Platters, Bo Diddley, The Jordanaires, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Drifters. These days he headlines the Daryl Davis Band, and has released several albums of his own. He’s also an actor and maintains a hectic lecturing schedule.
Born the son of a diplomat in Chicago and raised internationally, early in the film Davis recounts his first experience with racism at 10 years old, Young Daryl was pelted with trash by onlookers in a parade down Main St. while carrying the flag for his all-white Cub Scout Troop. It was a rude awakening that stuck with him his entire life.
Later, as a green member of a country-western band, a white audience member, impressed by his talent offered to buy him a drink between sets. As they spoke the white man noted that he’d never actually socialized with a black person before. It turned out that man was a Klan member, and in applying the question “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” to this new acquaintance, Davis had his first experience of eroding another person’s racial prejudices simply by talking him out of them.
Since then, Davis has for many years reached out (and been sought out) by leaders of the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups and other “white power” organizations. His large collection of ceremonial robes and hoods were discarded by former klansmen who longer hold their prejudicial beliefs. Some of who appear in the film attribute their reformation in a large part to Mr. Davis. His hopes to open a museum some day for said artifacts may be a bridge too far for his vocal critics. Davis states “The Ku Klux Klan is as American as Baseball, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”. His belief that “preaching to the choir” accomplishes little compared to “inviting somebody to the table who disagrees with you … then figuring out a solution to dissuade their fears.” At least one entire state wound up no longer having KKK chapters after Davis “converted” their leadership they disbanded.
Make no mistake. Mr. Davis nor his message is accepted by all white supremacists he encounters. Pastor Thomas Robb, the KKK’s national director, an unpleasant racist was immune to Davis or any information that contradicts his biases. Others Davis has achieved long-term friendships with only modified their racial views willing only to make a personal exception for him but remain dubious of other black people. Spokespeople from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which litigates against hate groups, view Davis’ efforts though well intentioned, a bit naive and his treatment much gentler than such people should expect.
Many more critics are furious with what they perceive as the “Kid Glove” treatment that they see as normalization of irredeemable perpetrators of backwards and repugnant views. Kwame Rose is a prominent activist in the Black Lives Matter movement and is also featured. There is significant push back during a gathering of African-American Black Lives Matters activists in Baltimore, who angrily dismiss his mission as “a fetish” and a waste of time that should have been spent improving his own community. “Infilitrating the Klan ain’t freeing your people,”.
A strong case can be made for outreach and reconciliation as a way to combat prejudice individual to individual, as the filmmakers quote Lincoln, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” And the SPLC and Black Lives Matter view on giving white supremacists a forum and blanket pass for the historical damage they’ve caused and current wounds they still inflict on individuals and American society, is just as strong. The film does and admirable job not to get preachy or coddle the viewer. It brings all views to the forefront and allows the viewer to make her own mind up about the validity of Mr. Davis’ approach. The wide range of responses “ACCIDENTAL COURTESY ” evokes, even at the critics Q&A I attended, make it a great film for educational forums and community gatherings particularly as these issues are front and center in America.
Wherever you come down on Daryl Davis and his methodology, Racism and any responsible for its perpetuation need to be challenged. This film explores one man’s way of doing just that. The film premiers in February. You can learn more about ACCIDENTAL COURTESY below:
Running Time: 100 min / Not Yet Rated
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