Updated: Jun 22, 2021
A brief look into the history behind Shaka King's brand new film 'Judas And The Black Messiah.'
Shaka King's new political thriller 'Judas And The Black Messiah' details the real-life story of Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of The Illinois Black Panther Party who was murdered by Chicago police in 1969. The film offers a unqiue perspective in deciding to not only focus on the story from Hampton’s point of view but also detailing events through the eyes of William O'Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant who infiltrated the BPP in a bid to save himself from jail time, who's intel resulted in the death of Fred Hampton.
The historical drama which was officially released last week, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, both of which featured in the 2017 thriller 'Get out.’ So far the film has received a string of glowing reviews and it seems it's already on track to perform very well in the upcoming awards season. This partly being due to both Kaluuya’s and Stanfield's stand out performance which critics have labelled “powerful” and “breathtaking” with predictions already flowing in that they could receive Oscars for their roles as Fred Hampton and William O'Neil.
In honour of the release of 'Judas And The Black Messiah' we thought we would take a closer look into Fred Hampton and the real-life story behind the plot of the movie.
Fred Hampton, born in August 1948, was an American Civil Rights activist and the leader of the Illinois division of The Black Panther Party. Hampton quickly rose to power within the Black Panther Party in the 1960’s which was a credit to his esteemed leadership skills and ability to communicate his ideals to large audiences. However, this didn’t go unnoticed by the FBI who saw Hampton’s knowledge and ability as a threat, fearing him for his power and ability to lead a successful revolution advocating for equal rights. J. Edgar Hoover, who was chief of the FBI during this period, was determined to prevent anyone forming a cohesive and powerful Black movement in the US and as a result kept a close eye on Hampton and his activities.
Under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover the FBI established a spy program called the Counter Intelligence programme (COINTEL) in 1956. The programme set out to keep tabs on organizations and people which they deemed as threat to American life, Fred Hampton being one of them. But despite the FBI opening a file and keeping tabs on Hampton and his whereabouts, he continued to engage in activism and continued his work as leader of the BPP. And by May 1969 Hampton went on to form what is known as the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ which was a multi-racial coalition which brought oppressed people from all walks of society together in the fight for equality and self-determination. This included rival street gangs from across Chicago, White people from a working class background and many other groups of civilians coming together to form an alliance.
The work of the COINTEL programme was on the most part conducted by means such as illegal wiretapping and the use of undercover informants such as William O’Neal. O’Neal was recruited by the police to infiltrate the BPP in hopes of gaining more intel on Hampton and the revolutionary organisation. He had recently been arrested on two different accounts for interstate car theft and impersonating an officer but was offered to have his chargers dropped and a monthly stipend in exchange for working with the FBI as a Counterintelligence Operative.
As a result of this O’Neal went on to join the BPP and soon climbed the ranks to Director of Chapter security, growing close to Hampton and his inner circle and eventually becoming Hampton's personal bodyguard.
During this period tensions were rising between the Chicago BPP and law enforcement and violent action between police offers and the party was at an all time high. Then, come December 1969 the police conducted a predawn raid at Hamptons apartment, which also doubled as a headquarters for the BPP, as a result of O’Neil reporting back to the FBI that a large amount of the BPP’s arms and weaponry were stored at Hampton’s apartment. O'Neil not only shared information about the stored weapons but he also drew up a map of the apartment, which detailed the layout of the furniture and information as specific as which bed both Hampton and his girlfriend slept in. Due to O’Neils claims the FBI were then permitted a search warrant for the property on the basis that there was a tip off that it may be filled with dangerous weaponry.
In the early hours of the morning on the 4th December 1969 the Police conducted the raid at Hampton’s apartment. The heavily armed team of Police stormed into the apartment, shooting Mark Clark, aged 22, who was acting as security on duty at the time, upon their arrival. This was followed by the death of Fred Hampton who was only 21 years old at the time and was sleeping in his bedroom with his (nine month) pregnant fiancé Deborah Johnson. Johnson was forcefully removed from the room by police then they went back in to shoot Hampton dead. Witnesses claiming that Hampton was initially shot in the shoulder then later executed by a gun shot in his head.
Numerous other members of the BPP were sleeping in the apartment that morning and those were left alive were all arrested by the police and charged with attempted murder of the police, despite evidence suggesting only one gunshot was fired throughout the entirety of the raid by the panthers, whereas the Police were reported to have shot almost one hundred bullets.
Evidence also strongly suggests that Hampton was drugged ahead of the raid, many suspecting that it was in fact O’Neil himself who drugged Hampton on the night of his death. However, in an interview conducted in 1989 O’neil strongly denied those claims.
Following Hampton’s death the Police forced the narrative across mainstream media that the panthers were “extremely vicious” and the injuries and deaths that occurred were a result of the Police simply defending themselves, receiving praise by higher Police leadership for their “bravery” and “professional discipline” for not killing every single one of the panthers who were present in the apartment at the time.
Although, there was also extreme outrage that occurred as a result of Hampton’s death, particularly within the Black community in Chicago. His death going on to inspire various movements and protests across the globe advocating for equal rights in the years to follow and still to this day Hampton is seen as a symbol of bravery and resistance by many.
The film ‘Judas And The Black Messiah’ was said to be created with the intention of introducing the story of Fred Hampton to a wider audience and in the words of director Shaka King “correct the record in terms of the misinformation that’s been put forth about the Black Panther party.” It’s clear to see the film strives tell the true story of the events which occured, with King revealing that he worked closely with Fred Hampton Jr. throughout the making of the film, in an interview stating that Hampton Jr. “was on set nearly 90% of the time.” However, its no surprise that some elements of the film don’t accurately mimic what occurred and were simply put in for dramatic effect but this doesn’t take away from the educational value of the movie and the importance of it telling a story which is often undermined and ignored within history.
As previously mentioned the film has received excellent reviews thus far, not only praising the performances of the actors involved but also for its overall cinematic excellence.
International DJ, Producer and Author DJ Semtex being amongst those who praised the film highly after viewing. In a post shared on his Instagram earlier last week he wrote "This is a great film. Perfectly shot, and the cast is amazing. It's possibly Laketh Stansfield's best performance thus far, whilst Daniel Kaluuya once again proves that he is top tier, world class Actor."
Semtex also went on to comment on the educational value of the movie, writing "I watched the film thinking it was something different to what it actually is. I knew how the story would end, but the perspective of the film leaves you with a sobering, numbing view of what happened then, and almost regrettably how it is relevant to what is happening now. It is a powerful film that captures an over looked and often ignored era of of Black history. Essential viewing." You can check out his post in full by clicking here!
In regards to when we will be able to watch the film here in the UK, the answer is still unclear but it’s safe to say we are very excited to view the movie in full when it is finally available! For now, be sure to check out the official trailer for ‘Judas And The Black Messiah’ if you haven’t already. (see above)
We strived to ensure that all the information provided was as accurate as possible. However, if you notice something that doesn’t look right please don’t hesitant to contact us and let us know so we can adapt what's written to ensure it's fair and factual.