Details Announced for Ryan Coogler-Produced Fred Hampton Biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah, Starring Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield






Late last week, Warner Bros announced the details for the new film by producer Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station, Creed), which completed production in early-March, and will be getting a theatrical release at an as-yet unconfirmed (and undoubtedly up in the air due to the pandemic) time. The film's title was announced as Judas and the Black Messiah, and it will be a biopic of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, telling the story of the events leading up to his assassination by the FBI. While Coogler's power as a producer has doubtlessly been instrumental in the creation of the film, and has dominated the headlines, the biopic will be the major-studio debut, and second feature film, by director/co-writer Shaka King, a long-time friend and collaborator of Coogler, and a TV director known for his work on People of Earth and Shrill.

The film tells the story of Fred Hampton, who rose to prominence as the chairman of Illinois' Black Panther Party in the late-1960s, and fought against the systemic racism, violence, and murder of black people by the Chicago police. As he became an increasingly influential leader within the Black Panthers, and as the movement against police brutality in Chicago gathered strength, the Chicago police and the FBI came to view him as an enemy, and began a plot to assassinate him. At the center of the plot was William O'Neal, a fellow Black Panther and friend of Hampton's who was secretly an FBI mole, forced into betraying Hampton under threat of prison.

The parallels between what Fred Hampton fought for in the late-1960s and what the Black Lives Matter movement fights for now are unmistakable: over 50 years later, we are still protesting police brutality, systemic racism within the justice system, and the murder of black Americans by police who still are usually not held accountable. We can only assume that King and Coogler will be telling this story from our past to also comment on our present, and to examine these parallels. And with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the nationwide wave of protests that followed, having happened in the months since production on the film was completed, Judas and the Black Messiah feels even more timely and relevant than it would have when it was being shot. It seems safe to say that this will likely end up being one of 2020's (or 2021's) most anticipated dramas.

Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Black Panther) stars as Fred Hampton, with LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta, Sorry to Bother You) co-starring as William O'Neal. Dominique Fishback (The Hate U Give), Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), Jesse Plemons (The Irishman), and Martin Sheen co-star.

- Christopher S. Jordan


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