“Judas and the Black Messiah” is an autobiographical drama that tells the story of Illinois Black Panther Party’s revolutionary Chairman Fred Hampton and the betrayal that led to his murder at the hands of an FBI informant. Starring Daniel Kaluuya of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Marvel’s “Black Panther” as the radical visionary, “Judas and the Black Messiah” dives deep into love — love of people, love of community and love’s ultimate sacrifices.
Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, the film takes viewers on an emotional ride of the icon’s rise in political power as the leader of one of the most revered organizations of modern history and the powers that wanted him stopped. Directed and produced by Shaka King, the making of the film, written by the Lucas Brothers Keith and Kenneth, was motivated by the Chairman’s own words.
“For me, the thing that sealed the deal was his words. Reading his words, they were incredibly profound, always relevant. He was able to take these concepts and his ability to reduce, this incredible ability to take incredibly complex ideas and put them in plain English, but in a very clever way,” King says.
Chairman Fred Hampton was the subject of FBI scrutiny and his organization was infiltrated by a man who would ultimately usher the leader to his demise. Arrested on charges of impersonating a federal officer and car theft, William O’Neal exchanged his conviction to go undercover on behalf of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to bring down the Black Panther Party in 1967. He later became one the party’s heads of security.
Moving to liberate Black people in Illinois and nationally, Fred Hampton’s gift of speaking and rallying the people made him a target. However, led by his love for the party and the community it serves, Hampton continued to be a voice for the people and erected programs and established community missions.
“He had an internal revolution. He was free within his own mind, within his own spirit, within his own soul and wanted to give the people the tools to be free within themselves,” Kaluuya says. “To free themselves with education, with food, with legal aide, with all these tools they put in place and strategies they put in place to promote individual internal liberation as well as community unity is really what I took from him.”
Murdered as a part of the FBI’s illegal Counterintelligence Program, or Cointelpro, created to infiltrate and discredit political movements and organizations, Chairman Fred Hampton died at just 21 years old. The revolutionary would also never see the fruits of his labor or the birth of his only child, a son, Fred Hampton Jr. Born just three weeks after his father’s untimely murder and now president of the Black Panther Party Cubs, Fred Hampton Jr. is learning from history what his father meant to the people.
“I learned lessons from [his] legend on what a man was supposed to be,” says Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. “I was fortunate enough to hear war stories of how the Chairman organized and everything.”
In addition to harvesting Black power, “Judas and the Black Messiah“ explores the love story between the Chairman and Deborah Johnson, now known as Akua Njeri, or Mother Akua. Played by actress Dominique Fishback from “The Hate You Give” and “Project Power,” the cast created a tight family atmosphere while shooting for the film.
“I would just watch as Daniel (Kaluuya) took up space,” Fishback says.
Now, bringing Hampton’s story to the big screen, producers of the movie wanted to be sure to capture the essence of who the leader was and bring it to audiences. Although no longer in the fight for liberation, equality and sustainment, the Chairman’s lesson and legend lives on.
“He had a gift that no one else has. So, it’s rare that you see that combination of someone who’s both relatable and almost feels superhuman,” King says.
The film opened in theaters February 12 and will be available for streaming on HBO Max mid-March.