Chairman Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was assassinated by the FBI, who coerced a petty criminal named William O’Neal to help them silence him and the Black Panther Party.
But they could not kill Fred Hampton’s legacy and, 50 years later, his words about revolution still echo, maybe louder than ever. Shaka King’s latest feature, “Judas and the Black Messiah,” aims to tell this story, and a blazing first trailer makes it look like one of the film events of the year.
In 1968, the young, charismatic activist became chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, who were fighting for freedom, the power to determine the destiny of the Black community, and an end to police brutality and the murdering of Black people. Chairman Hampton was inspiring a generation to rise up and not back down to oppression, which put him directly in the line of fire of the government, the FBI, and the Chicago police. Previously known as the “Untitled Fred Hampton Project / Jesus Is My Homeboy,” the film is directed and produced by King (“Newlyweeds”), his first studio film, from a screenplay by King and Will Berson, and a story by King, Berson, and Kenny and Keith Lucas.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” comes with a stellar cast of mostly young Black actors, led by Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as William O’Neal. Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons, and Martin Sheen round out the list of main actors. Ryan Coogler and Charles King of MACRO are producers.
The film was scheduled to be released on August 21, 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was pulled from the schedule — this first trailer says it’ll still be “only in theaters.” But making the film was such a herculean task, as producer King said during an August 6 virtual panel with Coogler, King, and Hampton’s son, Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr., because they knew that they wanted to tell the story on as large a canvas as possible. “I am a revolutionary,” Kaluuya screams repeatedly and urgently early in the trailer into a large Black crowd, who respond just as forcefully. And it never relents after that, promising a film that will likely provoke.
Check out the film’s first trailer below.