‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ a film depicting the story of Black Panther Party Leader Fred Hampton had a modest $2 million dollar box office opening and garnered rave reviews over the weekend. As has become the standard COVID-19 practice, the film debuted in theaters and exclusively on HBO Max simultaneously.
The film featured powerful performances from a cast that included Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal, Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, and many more.
The FBI killed Fred Hampton in the early hours of December 4, 1969. This film seeks to explore the events that led up to his assassination and the role that FBI informant William O’Neal played. Stanfield talked about how he had to familiarize himself with Hampton’s story because as with most black history he wasn’t taught about him in school. What he discovered “moved” him and he wanted to be a part of bringing his story to life.
“I had to be a part of it,” Stanfield told the Chicago Sun Times. “I [didn’t] care if they wanted me to play [Hampton’s] hat.”
While he initially thought he would play Hampton he was offered the role of O’Neal.
“All the things that I had learned about the Panthers that I hadn’t seen represented in their story, I really wanted to be a part of that,” Stanfield explained. “I found out later I’m playing O’Neal. I had to come to terms with that for a couple [of] days.
Kaluuya, whose performances in ‘Get Out’ and ‘Black Panther’ put him on the map, gave another moving performance. Coming to terms with the tragedy through his own research and discovering the age Hampton died had a profound effect on him. “In my late teens and early 20s, I was hit with the frustrations of being a Black man in a Western society; I kind of gravitated toward [Hampton’s ideology],” Kaluuya shared. “… I was moved — deeply moved. And for me, it was looking at how I wanted people to be moved in a way that I felt…I felt blessed and honored to play Chairman Fred.”
Fishback, who played Chairman Fred’s fiancé Deborah Johnson, talked about how powerful the entire experience was in going back to Chicago to film.
“I remember we had to fly to Chicago to meet the family. It was Daniel Kaluuya, Charles King and a bunch of other people [that sat] around the table with the family for over seven hours to talk about why we wanted to do this film and I remember sitting there and looking around and saying ‘Wow, this is the house that Chairman Fred Hampton grew up in. Like, Dominique do you realize where you are?’ So, I had an out-of-body experience…and it transformed [me] not just as an artist, but as a person.”
Anyone who is interested in learning a little bit more about Hampton’s story is implored to check out the film.