Published date08 May 2021
Publication titleMix, The
Daniel Kaluuya was just 9 years old when he wrote a play put on by Hampstead Theatre. It was the story of two guys working in McDonald’s, based on the goofy Nickelodeon sitcom Kenan & Kel. He wrote it in response to a teacher who told him he needed an outlet for his energy because his brain was ‘‘too busy’’.

Kaluuya was never sure if it was a compliment or a complaint, but that busy brain paid off: at 32, he has won best supporting actor at the Baftas, Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and Academy awards for his portrayal of chairman Fred Hampton, the leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party, who was assassinated in 1969.

The film Judas and the Black Messiah has all the ingredients for a buzzy awards season run. It is a lushly told story of black liberation, protest and police brutality, the tension twisted by an FBI informant played by the ever-excellent Lakeith Stanfield. It’s a reverent history lesson that would feel necessary any time between 1969 and now, but one that’s especially on the nose for 2021. Hampton was seen as a radical threat by the FBI; he was instrumental in the party’s free breakfast programme, its free healthcare clinics. He formed the Rainbow Coalition with rival groups across Chicago. He was 21 when he was murdered. The film carries an enormous burden of responsibility to do him justice — one which, critics agree, Kaluuya serves.

‘‘There’s so much on how chairman Fred died,’’ Kaluuya said in an interview with the British Film Institute.

‘‘I hope this film shows people how he lived.’’

Director Shaka King offered Kaluuya the part as he was still on set filming 2018’s Black Panther — the world’s first blockbuster African superhero movie — keen to see what this curious north Londoner could bring to the table.

Kaluuya got to work on heavy-duty immersion: he spent months reading books on the Black Panther reading list, he absorbed dissertations on Chicago politics, watched archive footage, studied the history. Then he went to the city and spoke to people, and visited the places Hampton lived, worked and campaigned in, before meeting the family for long, intense hours.

‘‘We’re here to give until we’re empty and I gave it everything,’’ he said in his winner’s speech at the Golden Globes last month, quoting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle.

‘‘Chairman Fred Hampton, I couldn’t give it to a more noble man. I hope generations after this can see how brilliantly he thought, how brilliantly he spoke and how brilliantly he loved. He...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT