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'Judas and The Black Messiah' to tell story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton

From front to back: LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya in "Judas and the Black Messiah." Photo by Glen Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures/TNS

Warner Bros.' “Judas and the Black Messiah” will be in theaters on Friday. Without any major spoilers, here’s what audiences can expect:

This star-studded film details the true story of 21-year-old Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), chairperson of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party, and his betrayal by William O’Neal. 

The film opens up with images and videos of the Black Panther Party movement, as viewers hear J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, talking about the threat Hampton poses to national security and the possibilities of him becoming a “Black Messiah."

Following this opening sequence, audiences are placed in Chicago, Illinois in 1968, where they first meet William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield). O’Neal is seen conducting a raid while impersonating an FBI agent in an attempt to rob a group of guys at a bar. He is caught by the police and brought in for questioning, where he enters a deal with the FBI to receive amnesty in exchange for information on Hampton.

Historically, Hampton became a threat to the FBI because he was attracting a large following and gathering great support for the Black Panther Party. Hampton’s agenda throughout the film is to collaborate with other social movement groups in Illinois to form the Rainbow Coalition, to fight capitalism and police brutality.

The film is littered with jazzy scoring, music about the Black experience and clothing that is specific to the era, which creators say was done intentionally.

During a virtual summit hosted by Warner Bros. to celebrate the release of the film and honor the legacy of the Black Panther Party movement, the creators and cast spoke about their labor of love in authentically representing the Party through the use of fashion, art and music.

“When I was doing my research, I found it very interesting that the Illinois party had their own look,” Charlese Antoinette Jones, costume designer for the film, said. “The Illinois party wore camo green World War II jackets to symbolize the fact that they were at war.”

Jones said it was important for the creators to accurately recreate the uniforms because their style of dress was an act of protest.

“They were flipping all of that symbolism on its head and making fashion revolutionary,” she said.

Shaka King, director and producer, said beyond sharing the story of Hampton’s betrayal, he hoped to pay homage to the true essence of the Party.

“The Panthers really led with love and they weren’t a terrorist organization, but rather community organizers and philosophers and thinkers,” King said.

UNC sophomore Jarrah Faye said she has always been interested in the Black Panther Party and the work of chairperson Fred Hampton, so she will be tuned in on Feb. 12. She said that his work is still prominent in our society today.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of things that he did, we still see today,” she said. “Free breakfast in public schools, the reason we have that is because he implemented it and it kind of influenced the government.”

Sophomore Jarrah Faye poses for a FaceTime portrait on Feb. 11 2021. Faye will be watching Judas and The Black Messiah on Friday.

Faye believes that more people need to know about this legacy.

“I think it’s very important that people watch it to know this history — especially during Black History Month,” Faye said.

This film will be in theaters on Feb. 12 and can be streamed on HBO Max for 31 days after its release to the public.


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