This week, our first look at the highly anticipated film JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is released online. Based on the true story of the life and death of Black Panther Illinois State Chairman Fred Hampton, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH details Hampton’s work with the Black Panther Party and his untimely death at the hands of the FBI, working on information from informant William O’Neal, when he was 21.
Conceived and filmed before the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in May this year, the film tells a story that still resonates 51 years after Hampton’s death, and may be more important than ever at shining a light on past events to put current struggles into perspective.
Ahead of the trailer release, we caught up with director Shaka King, producers Ryan Coogler and Charles D. King, and activist and son of Fred Hampton, Fred Hampton Jr to find out more about this fascinating and timely project.
Ryan, what was it about the project that spoke to you, and made you want to come on board as producer?
Ryan Coogler: We were visiting Shaka, we were in New York, spending time with his parents, in their back yard. Obviously, work came up while we were eating good food, and I was like “What are you working on right now?”, and he was like “I’m actually working on this really amazing project about Chairman Fred Hampton and this guy named William O’Neal” – I didn’t know who William O’Neal was, or his story – when he pitched the project to me, I was just blown away. Chairman Fred Hampton is someone whose life work, and the story of his assassination, has been relevant since the day it happened, and it only continues to be more relevant. I also think Shaka’s point of view, and how he wanted to tell this story, was also extremely relevant, so it was a project that Zinzi [Evans, producer and Coogler’s wife] and I couldn’t really get out of our heads.
Charles, as founder and CEO of Macro, a production company that was founded to tell multicultural stories, ones that may be left out of traditional narratives, what does the project mean to you?
Charles D. King: When Ryan and Zinzi reached out about the story I knew a little bit about Chairman Fred Hampton, but nowhere near as much as I should know, and I was already a huge fan of Shaka’s work so the opportunity to be part of telling this story is what Macro is all about; supporting these kinds of incredible, compelling, authentic stories about our community.
Chairman Fred Jr, as President and Chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs, and as the son of Chairman Fred Hampton, what does telling this story on the big screen mean to you?
Chairman Fred Hampton Jr: We do say a legacy is more important than your life, and we intended to put the political peel in the applesauce, still recognising that Chairman Fred – we make no bones about it – Chairman Fred was a revolutionary, the Black Panther Party was a revolutionary organisation. Our objective was [not to be] deprived of knowing about not a role model, but a real model; people who actually came from the community and the impact that it had and potentially could have on people.
Shaka, this film was filmed well before the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the Black Lives Matter movement as it is today, how do you hope audiences respond to it?
Shaka King: I have never been in this kind of position where the attitude of the audience is so caught up to the message that you are trying to convey. I think this is the way movies sustain, but time is long, and I don’t just think about what audiences should take away from this movie now, but what should audiences should take away, on year… five years away. Who knows, when this movie comes out, what the world will look like and what the culture will look like. I think the message of the movie is consistent, no matter when it’s viewed.
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH will be released in Irish cinemas in 2021.