Formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy, the story of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, will be told on the big screen in a way we have never seen before.
Directed by Shaka King, Judas and The Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal. Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station), and Charles D. King (Just Mercy, Fences), are producing the film.
Chairman Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was assassinated by the FBI, who coerced a petty criminal named William O’Neal to help them silence him and the Black Panther Party. But they could not kill Fred Hampton’s legacy and, 50 years later, his words still echo…louder than ever.
In an exclusive Q&A with the press, Shaka King, Ryan Coogler, Charles D. King and Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. (son of the late Fred Hampton) spoke about their experiences working on the film.
Charles D. King says Ryan Coogler reached out to him three weeks after the success of Black Panther. “Both Ryan, Shaka, and I are part of a coalition of artists who are also activists who also care about the community. So the opportunity to be a part of this story is what MACRO is all about — supporting incredible authentic stories about our community,” says King.
Ryan Coogler touches on how this story is still very much a fresh part of our history.
“This assassination affected real people who are still here today, this didn’t happen that long ago. Chairman Fred Sr. should still be here today. He should still be affecting the country today. And many of the people around him [back then] living and breathing are still locked up.”
Chairman Fred was inspiring a generation to rise up and not back down to oppression, which put him directly in the line of fire of the government, the FBI and the Chicago Police. But to destroy the revolution, they had to do it from both the outside…and the inside. Facing prison, William O’Neal is offered a deal by the FBI: if he will infiltrate the Black Panthers and provide intel on Hampton, he will walk free. O’Neal takes the deal.
Now a comrade in arms in the Black Panther Party, O’Neal lives in fear that his treachery will be discovered even as he rises in the ranks. But as Hampton’s fiery message draws him in, O’Neal cannot escape the deadly trajectory of his ultimate betrayal.
In our conversation with men behind the film, talking to Fred Hampton Jr, for him, having his father’s life depicted on screen and discussing it with Shaka, Ryan and Charles was “an easy conversation”.
“There were a lot of days, nights, hours, background checks, and checking people’s community credit cards,” says Hampton Jr.
Though his life was cut short, Fred Hampton’s impact has continued to reverberate. The government saw the Black Panthers as a militant threat to the status quo and sold that lie to a frightened public in a time of growing civil unrest. But the perception of the Panthers was not reality. In inner cities across America, they were providing free breakfasts for children, legal services, medical clinics, and research into sickle cell anemia, and political education. And it was Chairman Fred in Chicago, who, recognizing the power of multicultural unity for a common cause, created the Rainbow Coalition — joining forces with other oppressed peoples in the city to fight for equality and political empowerment.
Shaka, who will have the most direct impact as the movie’s filmmaker says, the process was an endless balancing act from day one.
“It started with the intention of what we were trying to convey. To also include William O’Neal as a character in the film, a capitalist. To me the movie is about the capitalist William O’Neal and the socialist Fred Hampton. The coward in William O’Neal and the revolutionary in Fred Hampton. I think we can attach judgement to both of those ideologies, but I think most people fall somewhere between those two.”
Judas and the Black Messiah also stars Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, and Martin Sheen.
The ensemble cast also includes Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Thorne, Amari Cheatom, and Lil Rel Howery.
The film is a Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, in association with MACRO Films, Participant and BRON Creative, and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.
The film is coming soon to theaters.
What's Your Reaction?
Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online community for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She's the primary film critic for BGN and is a member of the Critics Choice Association.