Sunday, October 17, 2021

Director Addresses Criticism Over British Actor Daniel Kaluuya Playing Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton


*British actor Daniel Kaluuya stars as famed Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in the upcoming Warner Bros. feature “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Lakeith Stanfield co-stars as William O’Neal, the FBI informant whose infiltration of the Black Panthers led to Hampton’s death.

Hampton was murdered by the Chicago Police during a coordinated raid in 1969.

“We started making it prior to the George Floyd killing and the rebellions that followed,” says director and co-writer Shaka King, per BBC

“I’ve never been in this kind of position where the attitude of the audience is so caught up to the message that you’re trying to convey – but I think the message of the movie is consistent no matter when its viewed.”

Producer Ryan Coogler says Hampton’s story has “become more relevant with context.”

“The people that were responsible for this, a lot of them are still alive. These ideas are still ever-present, these systems that Chairman was fighting for to be demolished – the constant attacks on poor people, on black people – those systems are still here.

“We’re still fighting the same beast, we’re still fighting the same monsters, we are still fighting the same system, you know, and they haven’t gone anywhere.”

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“Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the story through O’Neal’s POV, which Stanfield says was quite challenging to pull off. 

“I took on the eyes of somebody who didn’t give a damn,” he said. “I didn’t think I could connect to it, but with enough time you realize we’re all human and we’ve all got different viewpoints.”

Following Hampton’s death, O’Neal entered witness protection and died of an apparent suicide in 1990.

Hampton “had that combination of a youthful spirit and an old soul, and Daniel had qualities [similar] to him,” says King.

“He had a gravitas to him that you don’t see in people that age… not to mention the political viewpoints that he holds as an individual.”

When it comes to a non-foundational Black American playing an iconic American activist, King hopes Kaluuya’s casting doesn’t overshadow the film’s message.

“I’m well aware of the debate on British actors playing American black iconic figures,” he says.

“But for me, I’m born in America, my family’s Caribbean and I’ve got a South African name – so I am literally emblematic of a sort of diasporadic way of thinking.

“Kidnapped Africans ended up all around the world. We have a lot more in common than people think, in terms of our experience and trying to overthrow white supremacy.

“So I didn’t go into it thinking there would be [an issue].”

King unveiled the trailer for the film during a panel for the virtual NABJ-NAHJ Conference on Thursday.

“My casting choices were very instinctive,” he said. “I’d seen Daniel’s work in Get Out and Black Mirror, and I knew of his talent. Honestly, I knew he was the guy. I didn’t know why he was the guy, I just knew. When I was finally introduced to him and I sat down with him, it was only confirmed and reconfirmed because he has this certain gravitas to him that you rarely find in someone his age.”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is due for release in early 2021. 

Scroll up and watch the trailer above. 

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Not sure what other actors auditioned for the main character role, but bayyybay… Daniel Kaluuya sold me with his performance in this trailer. This is not a role you just put any ole’ actor in. They got to SELL IT! And he sold it. If you want the part you got to own it. From where I’m standing he owned it. We got to stop expecting things to be given to us and GO TAKE IT if you want it.

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