Entertainment

The Electrifying 'Judas & the Black Messiah' Trailer Calls for a Revolution

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield face off in the trailer for Shaka King's new film about assassinated Black Panther activist Chairman Fred Hampton.

click to play video

"Repeat after me: I am a revolutionary," is the electric call-and-response incantation from Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) that propels the new trailer for Judas & the Black Messiah. Directed by Shaka King and co-written by Will Berson, the film might center on one of the most influential Black organizers for the Black Panther Party in Chicago during the tumultuous late '60s, but its story is one that most probably haven't heard yet: How a petty criminal-turned-FBI informant, as part of the agency's illegal surveillance sting called COINTELPRO, became the lynchpin for the assassination of Hampton at point-blank during a police raid when he was just 21 years old. 

Just who was that informant? William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), who was recruited by an FBI agent (Jesse Plemmons) to infiltrate the Black Panthers to build a case file against Chairman Fred to avoid prison time. "William O'Neal was an opportunist, a capitalist," said one of the film's producers Charles D. King (Just Mercy) at a trailer premiere event. "He became an informant for the FBI as part of their COINTELPRO surveillance program, and most of the information was used to ultimately lead to the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton. People are manipulated by the system -- that's what I believe happened to William O'Neal."

It's an intensely complex and sensitive story to tell, what with many of the people directly affected by the horrible, unjustified killing of the revolutionary socialist still alive today and the true ideals of the Black Panther Party poisoned by a racist government initiative that targeted and framed dissenting (predominantly leftist) groups like the BPP, feminist organizations, anti-Vietnam War protesters, environmental rights activists, and many others as "subversive" dangers to society. To ensure a respectful depiction of this thorny history, the filmmakers enlisted Chairman Fred's own son, who took up his father's mantle of organizing in Chicago, to advise throughout the process.

"I know 'revolutionary' can become cliché, even the name the 'Black Panther Party,' there's been attempts to water that down," Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. said during the event. "Chairman Fred Hampton was a revolutionary, a servant of the people, a Black Panther mind, body, and soul. He wasn't in it, it was his calling. He internalized that, and he payed the ultimate price. That was the price to pay for peace; he was willing to subsequently pay that price."

You can feel that buzzing energy channeled throughout the trailer in Kaluuya's passionate performance as the young organizer pleading for a more just and better world for Black people and those oppressed around the world, in part exemplified through the Rainbow Coalition. "The thing about Chairman Fred, when he spoke, everything was true," said Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), another of the film's producers. "A lot of the people responsible for this are still alive today. We're still fighting the same monsters, the same system. They haven't gone anywhere."

Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Leanne Butkovic is an entertainment editor at Thrillist, on Twitter @leanbutk.
Our Newsletter
By Signing Up, I Agree to the Terms and Privacy Policy.