We have a long way to go to the Oscars, especially since eligibility has been extended through February 2021, but look. Just give Daniel Kaluuya the Best Actor Oscar right now. The teaser for Judas and the Black Messiah, in which Kaluuya plays Black Panther Party Chairman and Rainbow Coalition founder Fred Hampton, dropped yesterday and it is 147 seconds of PURE ELECTRICTY. Just stamp that statue with Kaluuya’s name right now. This teaser will give you CHILLS.
Kaluuya and Ryan Coogler, who serves as a producer on Judas, make this a mini-Black Panther reunion. Coogler got involved with the project via its director, Shaka King. They met at Sundance in 2013, where King shared his desire to make a film about Fred Hampton and William O’Neal. After Black Panther’s success, King called up Coogler, who became a producer and leveraged his newly acquired power to boost King’s project. This really goes to show how critical film festivals are, not just as a way of exhibiting work, but as a place to build the networks that can, in turn, get things done down the line. Any time someone attempts to blow off film festivals’ various efforts to increase inclusion among the films and filmmakers they showcase as “virtue signaling” or whatever dumb sh-t choads say, remind them that Judas and the Black Messiah exists because a couple of Black filmmakers met at a festival.
Judas is also something of a Get Out reunion, as it co-stars LaKeith Stanfield and Lil Rel Howery. Stanfield stars as William O’Neal, the titular “Judas” who informed against Hampton for the FBI as part of COINTELPRO. The story of Fred Hampton is one that should be taught in schools as part of American history, it’s one of those “how did I not know this” stories. I first heard Hampton’s story at a local history lecture after I moved to Chicago, and then learned more about the FBI’s disgraceful and unjust campaign against Hampton and the Black Panther Party while reading Agents of Repression (available on Kindle for $3). There is also a documentary produced by survivors of the raid that led to the assassination of Hampton and Mark Clark called The Murder of Fred Hampton, which can be rented on Amazon Prime for $2.
Right now, the best way to learn about Fred Hampton is by cobbling together resources wherever you can find them, but hopefully Judas will make Hampton’s story more well-known and accessible to all. We see plenty of positive portrayals of the FBI in film and television (there is a whole ass CBS procedural called FBI), but few representations of the havoc they wreaked through programs like COINTELPRO. Even a film that deals with COINTELPRO, like Seberg, has to have a sad-boy FBI agent making mealy protestations to the cruelty of COINTELPRO’s operations, as if to say that not ALL agents are bad. But COINTELPRO was so f-cked up, it taints that whole period of the FBI’s history. The FBI should apologize for COINTELPRO and all the lives ruined or taken because of it every day for the rest of forever.
On a lighter note, please observe Jesse Plemons is also in the film, because he is, to quote Lainey, “in everything”. Jesse Plemons going toe-to-toe with LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya? Sign me up for whenever we can see this film. The teaser ends with “Only in theaters”, but thanks to COVID-19, Judas currently does not have a release date, so the actual release of the film is probably more fluid than the teaser will admit. Or, Warner Brothers could hold the film until next year, in which case, we’ll give Daniel Kaluuya his Oscar in 2022.