Judas and the Black Messiah honors the life and legacy of Chairman Fred Hampton of the Illinois Black Panther Party.
Based on true events, it follows the work of the Rainbow Coalition co-founder and his tragic assassination brought on by the betrayal of FBI informant William O’Neal. Hampton’s son—Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr.—joined filmmakers earlier this week for a special virtual panel and media preview of the movie’s trailer before its drop today.
“I am a revolutionary!” These words of Fred Hampton echo in the trailer as actor Daniel Kaluuya commands attention in the lead role. Other Black Panthers chime in unison. The camera shifts towards one, O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield. In a plea deal for past crimes, O’Neal enters the Black Panther Party as a spy for the FBI. Federal agents were investigating into what they deemed to be violent measures being taken by the group. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) leads the government efforts, and agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) keeps his eye on O’Neal. And O’Neal—”Judas’—watches the 21-year-old Hampton, nicknamed the “Black Messiah.”
The cast also includes: Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Thorne, Amari Cheatom, Caleb Eberhardt, and Lil Rel Howery.
Judas and The Black Messiah is not an exact biopic of either Hampton or O’Neal. Filmmakers did have creative license to a degree. They also had the cooperation of Hampton, Jr. and mother Akua Njeri, and the blessing to cast a British actor as the lead. Hampton, Jr called his father a “representative of an organization that fought on their own terms…a servant of the people…who paid the ultimate price for freedom.” With his presence on set nearly every day, filmmakers earned Hampton, Jr.’s trust to capture his father’s likelihood.
Hampton’s global legacy as a whole resonated with director Shaka King. He recalled when brother Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas first approached him wanting to do a story on the Panther and his eagerness on the idea. King then turned to Chicago native Ryan Coogler, who had just debuted his film Black Panther. Coogler’s first call went to Charles D. King who joined in becoming co-producers with him. “Ryan, Shaka, and I became a coalition of artists who are also activists who care about community,” said Charles D. King,
The search among Hollywood for the “right partner” to this community-oriented story began, and the team felt an appropriate embrace from distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. The final product erupted as a collaboration between the company, MACRO Films, Participant, and BRON Creative. The overall crew includes alumni of shows and film: Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station, Sorry to Bother You, Fences, 12 Years a Slave, Shades of Blue, Random Acts of Flyness, and Raising Dion.
With the current Black Lives Matter movement and international presence of the Black Panther Party, the film’s premise is attractive to a wide audience and its timing inserts it into an ongoing dialogue on racial justice.
So without further ado, here is the evocative trailer for Judas and The Black Messiah: