In a film based on true events from studio feature debut writer-director Shaka King and producers Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Creed) and Charles D. King (Just Mercy, Fences), Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya (Queen & Slim, Widows) as Fred Hampton, a Chairman of the Black Panther party who was assassinated in 1968 as a result of intel passed to the FBI by William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield – Sorry to Bother You, Uncut Gems).
“We started making it prior to the George Floyd killing and the rebellions that followed,” says director and co-writer Shaka King to the BBC.
“I’ve never been in this kind of position where the attitude of the audience is so caught up to the message that you’re trying to convey – but I think the message of the movie is consistent no matter when it’s viewed.”
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 1968, a young, charismatic activist named Fred Hampton became Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, who were fighting for freedom, the power to determine the destiny of the Black community, and an end to police brutality and the slaughter of Black people. 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.
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 anaemia, and political education. And it was Chairman Fred in Chicago, who, recognising 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.
“The people that were responsible for this, a lot of them are still alive,” says Ryan Coogler. ” These ideas are still ever-present, these systems that Chairman was fighting for to be demolished – the constant attacks on poor people, on black people – those systems are still here.
“We’re still fighting the same beast, we’re still fighting the same monsters, we are still fighting the same system, you know, and they haven’t gone anywhere.”
Judas and the Black Messiah is due out in cinemas in 2021.