How Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler Got Involved In A Movie About The Black Panthers

Daniel Kaluuya in Judas and the Black Messiah

There’s a very good chance you are familiar with the Black Panther Party, the socialist political party born out of Oakland, California in the 1960s, and swept up passionate followers for decades. You might not, however, be up to speed with the story of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther chapter who accomplished a lot but was tragically assassinated at the age of 21.

Fred Hampton’s story will fuel the new film Judas and the Black Messiah, a biopic helmed by Shaka King and produced by industry heavyweights Ryan Coogler (Creed, Black Panther) and Charles D. King (Mudbound, Fences). King and Coogler’s relationship dates back to their Sundance days. The latter brought his debut film, Fruitvale Station, to the Sundance Film Festival in 2013, where he met Shaka King and they began discussing collaborations. During a recent press event for Judas and the Black Messiah, Coogler explained how he jumped from Black Panther to a movie about the Black Panthers, stating:

Shaka King, our filmmaker, was at the Sundance film festival, with me at the same time that I was there with Fruitvale. He was there for his directorial feature debut, Newlyweeds. We were a couple of the few black people with our films in the program. So we met, and became fast friends. I loved the movie. I got to know Shaka really well him, and loved him. The first time that he told me about this project … he was like, ‘I’m actually working on this really amazing project about Chairman Fred Hampton, and this guy named William O’Neal.' Who I didn’t know. I didn't know who William O’Neal was, or his story.When [Shaka] pitched the project to me, I was just kinda blown away. Chairman Fred Hampton is somebody whose life work, and the story of his assassination, has been relevant since the day happened, and only continues to become more relevant with context. But I also think that Shaka’s point of view, and how he wanted to tell the story, was also something that’s extremely relevant, as well. So it was a project that [Coogler’s wife] Zinzi and I couldn't really get out of our heads. Right around the time we finished with Black Panther, Shaka gave us a call and said he wanted to go. He offered us the opportunity to become producers on it. And the first person that I called was Charles King.

The trailer for Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah was shown during this press event, and it was characterized by a fiery portrayal of Fred Hampton by the brilliant Daniel Kaluuya. The actor had collaborated on Black Pantherwith Coogler, but also was coming off of a string of tremendous and powerful performances in movies like Widows and Get Out.

Daniel Kaluuya will be paired alongside the equally mesmerizing LaKeith Steinfeld (Knives Out, Sorry to Bother You) in Judas and the Black Messiah. Warner Bros. shared the trailer with us, so check this out now:

How does William O’Neal factor in to the story of Chairman Fred Hampton? He’s the Judas to Hampton’s Black Messiah. He’s an FBI informant who tipped the federal agents off to where Hampton was going to be, leading to the raid that resulted in Hampton’s assassination. And Shaka King will allow that disturbing slice of history to unfold when Judas and the Black Messiah makes its way to theaters.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.