The legacy of Chairman Fred Hampton is finally coming to the screen.
On Thursday, Warner Bros. debuted the first trailer for “Judas and the Black Messiah”, the new film about the 1969 FBI assassination of the leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party.
Daniel Kaluuya plays the charismatic 21-year-old radical activist, who was fighting for freedom for Black people and the end of police brutality and murder when his life was cut short.
The film also tells the lesser-known story of William O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, who was coerced into helping the FBI infiltrate the Black Panthers and provide intel on Hampton.
Speaking at an event debuting the trailer, director Shaka King was joined by producers Ryan Coogler, Charles D. King and the son of Fred Hampton, Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., to talk about the genesis of the film and the legacy of a true radical.
Explaining how he came onto the project, Coogler, who last made a splash as the director of Marvel’s “Black Panther”, talked about learning about the story from King.
“He was like, ‘I’m actually working on this really amazing project about Chairman Fred Hampton and this guy named William O’Neal’,” he said. “I didn’t know you didn’t know William O’Neal was or his story. When he pitched the project to me, was just kind of blown away. Chairman Fred Hampton is somebody whose life’s work, and the story of his assassination, has been relevant since since the day it happened.”
Charles added, “Ryan, Shaka and I, we’re part of a coalition of artists who are also activists, who really care about community. And so when, when Ryan reached out about the story, I knew a little bit about Chairman Fred Hampton. But nowhere near as much as I should know.”
He added, “And so when I read the script, I was blown away by it, I already loved Shaka’s work, and I was honoured to be asked to be a part of this. And then it just only continued to enhance as we got to spend time with Chairman Fred and mother Akua [Njeri].”
Talking about casting the film, Shaka said it was “incredibly intuitive.”
“Daniel, I just kind of knew. And I remember kind of going around and saying, ‘Hey, I think you should play Fred.’ … And then when I sat down with him, it really confirmed for me, just because he had a kind of gravitas to him that you just really don’t see in people that age.”
He continued, “LaKeith was someone who Ryan introduced me to in 2013, and we became friends and expressed a desire to work together. And for O’Neal, he needed to be a real complex villain, quite frankly. And LaKeith has expressed many times that he wants to play the Joker, and wanted to play the most complex villainy possible in this individual.”
Sharing his feelings about the film, Hampton Jr. said that it was important to see that the filmmaker could related to and acknowledge “that Chairman Fred was a revolutionary.”
He also said he saw the film as an opportunity to push back on the way his father’s legacy and the legacy of the Black Panther Party have been watered down by some people over the decades.
“He was a Black Panther. Mind, body and soul,” Hampton Jr. said. “He was willing and ultimately paid the ultimate price, and it wasn’t in a reactionary way. He was clear that there was a price to pay for peace. He was willing to pay that price.”