in the Judas and the black messiah Filmmaker Shaka King delves into the story of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and William O’Neal, who served as an FBI informant to silence Hampton and the BPP. King, who co-wrote the film with Will Berson, tells the overlooked story of the legendary revolutionary, the man of conflict who overthrew him, and how he reflects the current landscape when it comes to the country’s treatment of the black community and activism goes. Not only that, it also makes people realize that there is part of Hampton and O’Neal in all of us.
King and stars Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield and Domnique Fishback attended the Contenders Film Awards event to discuss the Warner Bros film, which will now be released on February 12th.
“The truth is that it changed as we wrote it,” says King of the journey of the story. “When Will and I started writing it, the touchstone for me was the Battle of Algiers, so it was much wider.”
He said the first story was about people like Wanda Ross, who helped organize the Black Panther Party’s breakfast program, and Doc Satchel, who was instrumental in setting up the Black Panther Party’s medical clinic. When they started fine-tuning the script, King said the focus was on O’Neal and Hampton.
For Hampton, they used his politics, but also a glimpse into his personal life.
“I often think when we think of these freedom fighters and revolutionaries, we don’t think they have families … and plans for the future – it was really important to focus on that on the Fred side,” he says King. “On the O’Neal side – [we wanted] to also humanize it so that the audience of the film can leave the film and ask themselves, “Is there any of that in me?”
The film is now exactly like the events of 1968 it portrays and the actors talked about how that story affected them during the making, and now with the recent events at the U.S. Capitol and the Black Lives Matter- Move.
Fishback, who plays Hampton’s fiancée Deborah Johnson (now known as Akua Njera), says she felt hopeless at the top of the pandemic and questioned her role as an actress and writer. After speaking to Kaluuya, she was re-inspired. and working on the film gave her hope.
“The story itself has always been a beautiful story for me and one I wanted to tell … to talk about the heroes who paved the way for us,” says Stanfield, who plays O’Neal. “The landscape has changed so much that we need this story now more than ever.”
Kaluuya, who took on the role of Hampton, said working on the film had enriched his perception of the subjects. “After George Floyd’s murder and reaction to it, I said, ‘Oh wow … this movie and these people articulate how people are feeling right now,” he says, adding that the feelings were out there, but people didn’t have the words or strategies to express them.
He said the release of Judas and the black messiah is “on time” and “a lot of people need to hear what Chairman Fred said and how he moved.”
Check the panel video again.