When you think of the Black Panther Party, what comes to mind? No, not Black Panther the film (although it’s one of my favorites), I mean the Black Panther organization. If you’ve heard of this group, you might think them militant, and maybe their uniforms come to mind associated with aggression. The way they have been perceived over the years is far from the party’s mission, and Judas and the Black Messiah seeks to change that.
Judas and the Black Messiah gives an inside look at the Chicago, Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, when it was led by Chairman Fred Hampton. I got to sit down with Keith and Kenny Lucas, the writers of the story, for an interview with CinemaBlend, and they elaborated on how the film gives an accurate portrayal of Fred Hampton and changes how the group is perceived. Here’s what Keith Lucas shared:
It was quite essential to make sure that we presented the Panthers in a more realistic way and not the character that they’ve become, you know, the militant Black guys in black berets carrying guns. That was one aspect of them, and mostly the open aspect, but the Chicago, Illinois chapter, they were on the ground doing community organizing. And Hampton was a prototype of a community organizer and he also happened to be a great orator. So he was able to combine those oracle skills of Dr. King with the fire of Malcolm X at a young age. I think that gets lost on people, too, that they were so young, they were kids. But they had the foresight to be like, ‘this capitalist system, it's not for us. The only way we're going to be able to fix our communities to fix our community.’
And Hampton, he just knew that intuitively, and we wanted to make sure - if you're going to make a movie that features Fred Hampton, you have to make sure you feature his message. And his message was about unity, love, bringing people together and working as a group, as a community to uplift. That was Hampton. It doesn't matter what you think about the Panthers. If you study Hampton and you read about his story, talk to people who knew Fred Hampton, like everyone everywhere, undoubtedly says, this was a man who was for the community and for the people. He wasn't about being a terrorist. He was about uplifting his community.
The Black Panther party was originally founded in 1966 by Heuy P. Newton and Bobby Seale (you may recognize this name from The Trial of the Chicago 7) to patrol African American neighborhoods and protect residents from police brutality. Fred Hampton fought to keep his community safe, and as Keith Lucas mentioned, to uplift his community. Kenny Lucas touched on Hampton’s demeanor with the following:
Was his rhetoric hard? Sure, his rhetoric had to be. You have state forces, you have the feds literally killing citizens. I mean, what are you going to do? You can't like you can't wishy-wash that message; you have to be forceful. And I think he understood the implications. I think Fred had an acute understanding of the stakes at a very young age, more so than many other people. He was like, ‘look, if we don't fight against fascism, fascism is going to kill us all.’
While Fred Hampton was a man about unity and love, he was forceful with his message though he never intended to harm. Daniel Kaluuya gives a powerful performance as he portrays Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Kaluuya captures that forcefulness, but also the tenderness in ways that will leave audiences speechless.