Director Shaka King tackles the true story of the slain Black Panther activist, Fred Hampton, through the eyes of the treachery within the ranks at the hands of William O’Neal. It’s a story lesser told but it’s truly affecting story bursts with electrifying performances from both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield.
In 1961, a 21-year-old Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, was viciously assassinated at the hands of the racially corrupt FBI, in his home, whilst drugged and unconscious. This isn’t how the story begins though; this one starts with the low-life petty criminal William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) arrested on a minor charge and willing to make a deal with the FBI to become an informant to save his skin from doing time.
The deal, to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and provide information on not only their activist plans but to aid in the killing. Over the span of 6 years, O’Neal rises through the ranks of the party to become the chief security officer. Whilst holding the larger than normal Kaluuya’s Hampton in high regard, whose message of love and fairness rings loud, Stanfield’s O’Neal remains elevated on that very same platform. This is truly O’Neal’s story, one in which he is made to feel important from dinners to recognition by the very same white men willing to take out a brother simple because they want to stay the dominant race.
Thanks to the innocence of Stanfield’s facial expressions and his mesmerizing performance there are moments of vulnerability in his character. The sense of questioning whether this is the right thing to do but with the flip of a switch his fight for number one soon dissipates any feelings of empathy of his betrayal. As always Kaluuya’s presence is commanding and truly effortless, he emanates a stoic figure with charm, almost teddy bear-esque but once on the stage, the passion of Hampton’s cause elevates the energy in any room.
Bookending the film with the famed interview of O’Neal recounting his actions, King’s approach to this story is unique. Spotlighting the Judas figure with a brush of compassion but never taking away from the enormity of his actions is a fresh take on the biopic.
You can rent the movie premiere of Judas and the Black Messiah at home from 11th March.
From the 9th – 11th of March, the BFI are holding a Virtual Live Event on behalf of the film’s release with Q&A’s with the cast and director to behind the scenes insights.