Judas and the Black Messiah World Premiere at Sundance
JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH MAKES HISTORY DURING BLACK HISTORY MONTH AT SUNDANCE
The Sundance Film Festival showcased the World Premiere of Judas and the Black Messiah on February 1st, 2021 in a virtual setting for festival pass holders and members of the press with a live Q & A immediately after.
Fred Hampton’s cathartic words “I am a revolutionary” became a rallying call in 1969. As chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Hampton demanded all power to the people and inspired a growing movement of solidarity, prompting the FBI to consider him a threat and to plant informant William O’Neal to infiltrate the party. Judas and the Black Messiah film not only recounts Hampton’s legacy and the FBI’s conspiring but also gives equal footing to the man who became infamous for his betrayal — highlighting the systems of inequality and oppression that fed both of their roles.
Director Shaka King returns to the Sundance Film Festival with an incredible cast of Sundance alums led by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. Kaluuya channels Hampton’s ability to energize and unite communities, while Stanfield taps into the anguish of a man with conflicting allegiances. Dominique Fishback also stands out in her reserved yet confronting performance as Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s life partner. King’s magnetic film carries themes that continue to resonate today and serves as a reminder of the potent power of the people.
Some of the most memorable phrases from watching Judas and the Black Messiah that stuck with me were:
“War is politics with bloodshed and politics is war without bloodshed.”
“When a poor man asks for housing, clothing, justice, and peace it’s not a democracy, it’s socialism.”
These are just a couple of powerful statements made in the biopic.
After the world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the cast Daniel Kaluuya (Fred Hampton), Lakeith Stanfield (William O’Neal), Dominique Fishback (Deborah Johnson), and Director Shaka King joined with the late Chairman Fred Hampton’s son, who is now Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. for a Q&A discussion.
Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. reflected on how watching his parent's story come to life on the screen is fulfilling, a burden, and a blessing. He overall is pleased with the way the actors portrayed these real-life people and their experiences with justice.
When Daniel Kaluuya was asked in what ways did the Black Panther Party and playing the role of Fred Hampton inspire him, Daniel replied that it was the love that they had for each other and for themselves.
Daniel feels that the Judas and The Black Messiah cast members were portraying people in the film that in real life poured their love into the community during that time period. These revolutionaries would die for their own, and to liberate their own people.
Lakeith Stanfield plays an insecure William O’Neal. Stanfield watched the famous Documentary, Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965–1985 where an interviewer asked O’Neal:
“What would you tell your son about what you did then?”
William O’Neal replied: I think I’ll let your documentary put a cap on that story. I don’t know what I’d tell him other than I was part of the struggle. That’s the bottom line. I wasn’t one of those armchair revolutionaries.
One of those people that want to sit back now and judge the actions or inactions of people when they sit back on the sideline and did nothing.
At least I had a point of view. I was dedicated. And then I had the courage to get out there and put it on the line. And I did. I think I’ll let hi — let history speak for me.
After the documentary aired William O’Neal took his own life. We will never know if it was because of the guilt, or the backlash that came from him telling his story about the role he played being undercover in the Black Panther Party and helping the FBI which eventually led to the assassination of Fred Hampton.
Lakeith feels that the interviewer was very clever and knew that O’Neal was battling with his feelings because he tried to justify his actions by coming off as if he did what he had to do.
That mindset along with watching the documentary played a huge part in helping Lakeith play the role.
I encourage everyone to watch the Eyes on the Prize 2 documentary and this Sundance selected Film. The actors and director made it an experience and not just a piece of history being acted out on the screen.
This film can changes lives and premiering during Black History Month is absolutely epic!
Everyone should join in and get this knowledge and insight.
HBO Max will premiere the film to the public on February 12th, 2021. For more information on Judas and The Black Messiah be sure to visit the website www.judasandtheblackmessiah.com.
About the Director
Shaka King, the writer/producer/director of Judas and the Black Messiah, is a double Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee. King’s feature directing debut was Newlyweeds.
He was nominated for an Image Award for directing the episode “Pool” of Hulu’s original Shrill. Additional credits include HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and High Maintenance.