Daryl Davis, an accomplished African American musician, actor, author, and lecturer, decided years ago that the best way to effect change was to engage the “enemy.” He set out to meet and talk with members of the KKK and other white supremacists and truly listen to them. In the new documentary, “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, & America,” we find out the result.
We watch Davis in conversation with KKK members, some of whom continue to feel the same, and some of whom change as a result of the exchange. Davis has even begun collecting robes and Klan artifacts from those he has convinced to leave the movement. He hopes to someday open a museum.
Like the narrative film, “Imperium,” starring Daniel Radcliffe as an FBI agent who infiltrates a white supremacist group, we learn from “Accidental Courtesy” that white supremacists have different views about racial differences. Some hate other races and want to start an out-and-out race war, while others “just” want segregation. Not all of them believe in the superiority of the white race, but most of them seem to believe that white people are in danger of being wiped out by diversity. They feel the white race is in need of saving.
Davis certainly doesn’t agree with them, and some refuse to talk to him at all. But he has even become friends with a couple of them despite the inherent racism in their views. Davis’ intentions appear honorable, and it seems to make some sense to deal with racism one individual at a time. But I also understand the feelings of Black Lives Matter movement members who angrily express to him in the film that his energies could have been better served by building up the people in their community.
For these reasons, the film is bound to be controversial. Throughout, however, Davis comes across as a thoughtful, courageous, talented, and intelligent man who wants to make a difference in his own way. We see him playing boogie woogie piano and setting the record straight with a couple of white supremacists about the true black origins of rock ‘n roll.
Regardless of how you feel about Davis’ odd friendships with Klan members, “Accidental Courtesy,” as directed by Matt Ornstein, is entertaining and engaging throughout. The film opens in New York Jan. 6, 2017, and it premieres on PBS “Independent Lens” on Feb. 13, 2017 at 10pm ET (check local listings). Online streaming begins feb. 14. Check out the trailer on YouTube.