*The Warner Bros. film “Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the story of the 1969 murder of Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton Jr (Daniel Kaluuya). The film’s central point is the relationship that develops when FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrated the Panthers. He provided information to the FBI that led to Hampton’s murder.
EURweb correspondent Jill Munroe spoke with Stanfield and the film’s co-writer and director Shaka King about the decision to highlight O’Neal’s story along with Hampton’s.
Shaka: The premise came to me via the Lucas brothers. Who said, ‘we’ve envisioned a film about William O’Neal and Fred Hampton that’s like “The Departed” inside COINTELPRO (the covert and illegal operation to take down political groups put together by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover).
I hadn’t made a movie in four or five years for a reason, the market place was incredibly hostile to movies helmed by people who looked like me or starring people that looked like me. So, I pivoted to television – it felt more hospitable. What I recognized in their film pitch, was a way to get this movie made…I the only way to tell the Panthers politics in an unfiltered way was to put them in a genre.
I’m not the only Black director that’s picked up on this, you look at Jordan Peele, you look at the success of “LoveCraft,” it’s almost become a genre unto itself. They’ve been playing with horror and sci-fi but through undercover crime…it’s the same idea. As Fred Hampton Jr. has said, ‘put the medicine in the apple sauce.’
It’s a movie about two men with very different ideas of what freedom and power look like. They kind of stand at polar ends of humanity in a lot of ways. You have a socialist and a capitalist, a person who is an individualist and a person who lives to build coalitions. You have a coward and you have one of the most bravest people ever to walk this earth.
Jill: How did you approach the role of O’Neal? He’s not a character most people would have empathy for, even though he was only 19 years old when the FBI recruited him as an informant.
LaKeith: I tried to create a balance with Shaka. I tried not to go too far in making him emotionally available. But I also wanted to show his insecurity, fear and what drove him. It was a delicate balance.
Jill: How do you think the audience and social media are going to react to O’Neal’s character and choices?
LaKeith: I don’t know. My hunch is the audience will understand Bill O’Neal and his decisions. Most of them would probably be more Bill O’Neal-esque than a Fred Hampton. Fred Hampton was the courageous one. Most people won’t put their life on the line for others. They would try to self preserve. They might identify more with Bill. I don’t know though.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” will be available in theaters and on HBOMax February 12.