Daniel Kaluuya won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his performance in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” completing an awards season sweep that started with a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe win and extended to victories at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, and the BAFTA Film Awards. Kaluuya is the only 2021 acting winner at the Oscars to sweep the awards season. Kaluuya won the Oscar over Lakeith Stanfield (also from “Judas and the Black Messiah”), Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”), Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”), and Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”).
Kaluuya’s win for “Judas and the Black Messiah” marked one of six nominations the Shaka King-directed historical drama received at the 93rd Academy Awards. In addition to its two Best Supporting Actor noms, “Judas” also earned nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song, and Best Cinematography. The movie’s nomination for Best Picture made history for featuring an all-Black producing team.
To play Fred Hampton, fiery orator of the Black Panthers, Kaluuya told IndieWire earlier this Oscars season that he immersed himself in Hampton’s Chicago neighborhood, Mayhood, and reached out to his family. He also read the voluminous Black Panther reading list, which was compulsory for all members. Soon, Kaluuya realized: “I’m in a play and everyone else is in a film, in terms of the demands on my voice and vocal chords, doing big speeches all day.”
Kaluuya also attended opera classes and sang gospel songs to work on his voice. “I felt like the attitude of the speeches were James Brown,” he said. “I’d do the speeches in order to find the cadence, how it felt for me. The speeches were a talking version of singing as opposed to a singing version of talking. It’s a tune, a song.”
“It was an out-of-body experience,” Kaluuya said of performing the monologues in front of a room full of over 400 extras and film crew. “I watch it back and I don’t remember the takes. I don’t remember anything in this film. It was really transcendent. Chairman Fred was speaking through me. In that moment, he was giving power to the people.”
Why was it so important to channel the passion of Chairman Fred? “I just feel like he cared,” the actor said. “He cared about awakening people who were being crushed in their sleep. He read and had original ideas and thoughts about what he read. He wasn’t taking on or inheriting any ideas before his existence… You can do incredible things if you love and if you care, and he did.”
As IndieWire’s Anne Thompson reported in March, Kaluuya also sat down for a marathon meeting with Fred Hampton, Jr. and his mother, Deborah Johnson, plus co-star Dominique Fishback, director Shaka King, and producers Ryan Coogler and Charles King. The conversation among the attendees lasted for nearly eight hours. “Deborah Johnson, she’s direct and she listens and she’s seen it all,” Kaluuya said. “It was so incredible to have her be part of the process. I’d always take her words of encouragement before we started shooting, during, and after she saw it. She was around, as she was there.”
Next up for Kaluuya is Netflix’s science-fiction tentpole “The Upper World,” which is designed to launch a new film series for the streaming giant. Kaluuya told IndieWire, “It’s about quantum physics. I’ve never seen Black London portrayed in this way in terms of genre.” The Oscar winner is also developing a screenplay that he first started at the Sundance Screenwriting Lab before “Get Out.” Speaking of “Get Out,” Kaluuya is reported to reunite with director Jordan Peele for the latter’s next directorial outing. Keke Palmer and fellow Oscar nominee Steven Yeun are also in the cast.