Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the most anticipated films of this awards season, the Shaka King directed drama focussed on the relationship between William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) an FBI informant who betrayed Black Panther Chairman Fred Hampton leading to his assassination. Over zoom, Daniel Kaluuya who stars as Hampton, Hampton’s son Chairman Fred Hampton Jr and commentator Baratunde Thurston discuss the film and the legacy left by Hampton Sr. Here are ten things we learned from their conversation.
1. HAMPTON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS FATHER
Hampton Sr. died at the age of 21, weeks before the birth of his son. As a result Hampton Jr never knew his father save for writings, and through footage of him. Speaking of poems he wrote about his father, Hampton Jr says “I learned lessons from your legend, of what a man was supposed to be.” Hampton Jr refers to his father as Chairman Fred as a sign of respect for what he has done for the party and for Black Americans. He also refers to his office as “the streets”, and that doing the work is a 24-hour job that Hampton Jr continues to this day.
2. KALUUYA’S PERFORMANCE
Hampton Jr also talks of the respect he has for Kaluuya and his performance. In particular, he talks about how he was impressed by one scene where Kaluuya channels Hampton Sr’s walk and the manner in which he carried himself. Hampton Jr says “Daniel had respect for the body language, the cadence of the walk, the particulars. I take for granted as a youngster I used to hold my hands down until I saw footage of Chairman Fred and how he used his hands when he spoke. Daniel had respect for that, and picked up on it.” Hampton talks about having a stutter that is emblematic of being from Chicago and that Kaluuya leaned into it to bring Hampton Sr to life.
3. THE HAMPTON FAMILY WERE INVOLVED IN THE PRODUCTION
Hampton Jr was on set to help the writers and Kaluuya with his performance, but Kaluuya speaks of meeting Akua Njeri (formerly Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s partner, and Hampton Jr’s mother). He said “Mama Akua took me and Dominique [Fishback, who plays Johnson] to the side and asked us why we make art.” Of meeting the family Kaluuya says “it felt necessary to imbue the narrative with truth, it was important to me and everybody. It felt like everyone was aligned with the same outlook.”
4. HAMPTON SR’S RAINBOW COALITION WAS NOT ALWAYS A GIVEN
While talking about his role as a revolutionary and freedom fighter, Hampton Jr talks about his father’s struggles uniting the streets of Chicago and the gangs that ran rampant. At one point he mentions the famous Rainbow Coalition that sought to unite different cultures, saying that even members of the Black Panther Party were unsure about it as they couldn’t relate to the other people Hampton sought to involve.
Hampton Jr reminds people that Chicago is stilled called “Chi-Raq” because it still remains a crime hot spot and known as a war zone of racial tension.
5. THIS WAS NOT THE FIRST ATTEMPT AT A HAMPTON BIOPIC
Hampton Jr states “There had been a number attempts brought to us, be it books deals or movie deals, that we’ve turned down. We didn’t even see it getting to this stage. We have war wounds from so many ill intentions or lack of respect.”
Aside from Judas and the Black Messiah, Kelvin Harrison Jr cameos in The Trial of the Chicago 7 as Hampton for one scene.
6. POLICE STILL HOLD ANIMOSITY TOWARDS HAMPTON
Over fifty years later the police still hold little respect for Hampton’s legacy. Kaluuya in his preparation for the role visited the memorial site “I’d seen that the site, the memorial site of the shootings, had been destroyed. I remember that. I remember seeing that it had been destroyed. Chairman Fred Jr explained that the police had come and wrecked those places. For me it was a microcosm of what had been done for centuries. It’s the destruction of necessary healing from the powers that be. I saw that there.”
7. THE PRODUCTION FELL ON AN IMPORTANT ANNIVERSARY
Calling any film about racial injustice “timely” is pointless as the infamous suppression of Black people globally but in particular in America will continue to be timely for years to come, but Hampton Jr mentions that the cast of the film stopped what they were doing to attend a rally he was holding on the anniversary of the killing of Tamir Rice, the 12-year old Ohio resident shot dead by police for holding a toy gun.
Despite the ongoing issues with racial injustice Hampton Jr feels optimistic that the pandemic has opened people’s mind to the political discourse of the world and that as a result releasing this film will open eyes.
8. DOMINIQUE FISHBACK WROTE POEMS IN CHARACTER
Fishback was not present during rehearsals as she was busy with another film but wrote poems in character as Johnson to prepare for her role. Upon meeting Kaluuya she shared the poems she wrote with him, one of which ends up in the film at the urging of director Shaka King. The real Johnson was also a very committed poet, spurring Fishback to channel her in preparation.
9. THE FILM DIDN’T SHY AWAY FROM THE CONTRADICTIONS
Kaluuya talks about not wanting to hide away from the contradictions of Hampton Sr, stating that contradictions bring about truth in people. The truth of Hampton is one that Kaluuya stresses was important in his taking the role and showing that there was a man beneath the legend. Hampton Jr states “contradictions are the ruling factor of the universe”. Hampton Jr states the film heightens the contradictions so that people can make their own minds up.
10. THE FILM IS ABOUT TOGETHERNESS
The film uses quotes from Hampton as a guiding light, famously “Where there’s people, there’s power”, Kaluuya laments that now the community is reduced to facebook and zoom and that weakens togetherness. The film though is about people that come together to try and make things better for a community and those that seek to change that.
Judas and the Black Messiah is released on the 26th February