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Judas and the Black Messiah: an educational portrayal of the Black Panther Party

February 10, 2021
Daniel Kaluuya(right) as Chairman Fred Hampton in Warner Bros. Pictures “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Photo Credit: Glen Wilson
Daniel Kaluuya(right) as Chairman Fred Hampton in Warner Bros. Pictures “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Glen Wilson

The cast of the upcoming film “Judas and the Black Messiah” shared how they hope the film impacts audiences, specifically college students, at a virtual roundtable last weekend. 

The film, which details the events leading up to the assassination of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, provides a historical look into the Panthers looking to correct the record on the party’s reputation. 

“There’s a myriad of things I hope audiences walk away from it with,” Director Shaka King said. “I think it's an opportunity to explore this country’s past and present of crushing voices of dissent and really weaponizing the state to just really quell efforts by citizens to make changes that actually lead to these ideals that America puts forth of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Ultimately, that's all the Black Panthers were trying to bring to the masses, starting with those of us who are deeply deprived of that, which is Black folks in this country.”

Actor Daniel Kaluuya, who plays Chairman Fred Hampton in the film, cited the Panther’s dedication to their medical program, their educational and breakfast program to feed children and covering legal fees as what the party did, not violence.

Kaluuya said he hopes the film shows the difference between revolutionary beliefs and the actions of violence associated with the party.

“I think it’s the clarity of the … violence — a minutiae of what they stood for,” Kaluuya said. “For me, it’s the real deep love for their own community, a deep love for the Black community.”

King echoed this idea, reinforcing throughout the film that the Panthers stood up for their community out of love, not hate. 

“The Panthers really led with love, and they weren’t a terrorist organization,” Director Shaka King said. “Rather, they were community organizers and philosophers and thinkers.”

There’s additionally an educational aspect of the film, as actor LaKeith Stanfield, who portrays the FBI informant on the inside of the Panthers, said he hopes the film brings awareness to the party because it’s not taught in schools. 

“I hope we can bring Fred Hampton to some people’s awareness, because people act like they don’t know about him,” Stanfield said. “In the history classes, they don’t really teach about him, so hopefully we can bring awareness to people who don’t know, and those who do know, provide some context.”

Actor Algee Smith reinforced that the history of the party was not taught in schools, and he said he hopes the film shows how the Panthers really lived.

“They tried to wipe it, but we get a chance to actually tell the truth and show how Fred Hampton lived, show how these Black Panthers lived,” Smith said. “Because all we have to go off of is how he was assassinated, we don't have how he lived.”

In addition to setting the record straight and educating viewers, the cast also hopes to empower young adults and college students. 

Actor Darrell Britt-Gibson said he hopes young people see that there is strength in numbers and the power of unity. 

“That was Chairman Fred Hampton’s mission — and the Panther Party’s mission — is that we are stronger together, and it’s power to the people,” Britt-Gibson said.

Britt-Gibson pointed out the collegiate ages of the Panthers. 

“I really hope that young people … understand how powerful you are,” Britt-Gibson said. “I think that there’s a strong misconception that somehow you’re defined by your age. Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, they were 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 years old, changing the world. … It’s going to start with y’all, and y’all are the change.”

This idea was echoed by actress Dominique Fishback, who said she hopes the quieter moments of the film allow young people to see themselves in the people who lead them. 

“We often see these leaders as revolutionaries, as larger than life people having something that we could only dream about, and I think with the movie, because we have the quieter moments that Daniel and I get to share … I’m hoping that people get to see a little bit of themselves in our leaders,” Fishback said. “When people start to see themselves in our leaders and in our heroes, then we start to imagine that we can be heroes.”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” will be in theaters and HBO Max on Friday, Feb. 12. 

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