Judas and the Black Messiah, an intense historical drama movie inspired by the real-life events of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, is set to hit theaters and HBO Max on Friday, Feb. 12.
The movie, set in the 1960s, sheds light on the lesser-known story of the infiltration of the Black Panther Party. It centers around two main characters: William O’Neal, a man aligned with the FBI as the result of an ultimatum, and Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois BPP.
The premise of the movie, as well as its context, undeniably offers viewers much food for thought. In the wake of Black History Month, the Black Lives Matter movement and the larger and consistently pervasive issue of systemic racism, Shaka King, the director of the movie, found it imperative to accurately reframe the narrative of Hampton and the actions of O’Neal.
According to public school education and censorship of the media, “the Panthers and the movement were not viewed as heroes, to put lightly,” said Jimmie Briggs, a documentary filmmaker who moderated a speaker panel on the film.
“Essentially, you’re talking about the correction of propaganda,” said King. “We have the opportunity to shift those narratives. We can normalize revolutionary love.”
Judas and the Black Messiah was the result of collaboration, with Chairman Fred Hampton’s son, Hampton Jr., working alongside King and Ryan Coogler to most accurately depict the moving story of the leader’s legacy. The rapport extended beyond the people behind the ideas of the film and bled into the team as a whole.
“I was humbled and honored, and gave all that I could [to the role of Fred Hampton],” said Daniel Kaluuya, who also played major roles in films Get Out, Black Panther and Queen & Slim.
What persisted with Kaluuya as he immersed himself into his character was the power of love and connection.
“These are people who look like you. That’s your community,” said Kaluuya.
King emphasized his hopes to relay the message of apoliticism having dire consequences through his movie. O’Neal was caught impersonating a federal officer to steal cars. The FBI presented him the choice of either facing seven years in prison or acting as a counterintelligence operative to report on the Illinois Black Panther Party. Choosing the latter, O’Neal and his political views, or lack thereof, ultimately broke the Panthers from within the BPP.
“I want people to take away that there are dangers to being apolitical,” said King. “If you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”
*Article thumbnail courtesy of YouTube.