‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ strives to inspire change, empower Black community’s youth

Parallels between the racial tensions of the 1960s and those of this past year echo throughout the plot of Shaka King’s latest film.


Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

DANIEL KALUUYA (right) as Chairman Fred Hampton in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Trae Mitchell, Staff Writer

When director and writer Shaka King wrote “Judas and the Black Messiah,” he did so with the film’s cast in mind. Dominique Fishback, who plays Deborah Johnson, said this decision gave her and her colleagues creative agency.

Fishback, who plays opposite leading man Daniel Kaluuya (Chairman Fred Hampton), said King was open to her initial critiques. “One of the first things Johnson says to Fred is about poetry, and we don’t get to hear a poem,” Fishback said.

As a response, King gave Fishback the green light to write a poem for the movie, which was later implemented into the film. “In taking ownership over the character in that way and being allowed to do that allowed me to tap into a different part of myself, a different part of womanhood,” she said.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is set in the late 1960s’ Chicago. It captures the charismatic ability of 21-year-old Fred Hampton as he unites conflicting groups around the freedom struggle. By allowing the actors to contribute to their characters, the filmmakers and cast hope the audience, HBCU students in particular, will more easily identify themselves and characters in their own lives within the film. Particularly HBCU students.

Kaluuya believes the film is about empowerment.

“It’s less about what you can do and more how you see yourself,” Kaluuya said. “That’s what I really want college student to get. Everyone has the ability to be who they want to be.”

Darrell Britt-Gibson, who played Bobby Rush, the co-founder of the Illinois Panthers, remarked that the film showcases significant historical parallels between the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and the modern-day Black Lives Matter movement.

“52 years ago, we lost Chairman Fred Hampton. He was assassinated in his bed minding his own business,” Britt-Gibson said. “Just last year, we lost Breonna Taylor who was assassinated sleeping in her bed minding her business.”

“In both cases there was no justice served.”

The film is highly anticipated, as a result of its prestigious cast; namely Kaluuya (“Get Out”, “Queen and Slim” and Marvel’s “Black Panther”) and LaKeith Stanfield (“Atlanta”, “The Photograph”, “Knives Out”) who plays FBI agent William O’Neal. The film is also produced by “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler, who also wrote and directed “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station.”

Algee Smith, who plays Black Panther member Jake Winters, discussed the importance of illustrating the Black Panthers’ camaraderie while simultaneously illuminating the role of Black women in the party. Dominique Thorne, who played security captain Judy Harmon, was said to represent resilience while Fishback’s character personified love.

“I do think that it’s important to amplify those types of stories and make sure that Black people and especially Black women are seen in this light,” Thorne said. “It’s important that they are seen as humans deserving of love and capable of great love.”

The film’s cast and crew hope that “Judas and the Black Messiah” not only empowers audiences, but also serves as a catalyst for change.

“It feels like we have a conversation every year, and then nothing changes,” Britt-Gibson said. “Hopefully, this film can be the launchpad for the conversation that leads to the actual tangible change.”

The film is available today in select theaters and on HBO Max.