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Judas and the Black Messiah: The true story behind Fred Hampton movie starring Daniel Kaluuya

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The Independent
The Independent

Daniel Kaluuya is up for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah , Shaka King’s biographical drama which chronicles the events that led to Hampton’s dead in a police raid.

Hampton, a community organiser and member of the Black Panther Party , died at the age of 21 in 1969 after 14 police officers raided his Chicago apartment.

Kaluuya told Stephen Colbert on 13 April that the role was a “real challenge” and a “big mountain” to climb.

The actor said that he came across Hampton’s story prior to working on the film and was struck by how young Hampton was at the time of his death, which left him wanting to take a closer look at his story.

Here are the real-life events that form the basis of Judas and the Black Messiah:

Hampton, a native of Summit, Illinois, was a charismatic community organiser and activist who became the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party (often referred to as “Chairman Fred”).

Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party was a political organisation opposing racism and police brutality, which also ran community initiatives such as a free breakfast programme for schoolchildren.

Hampton became a target of FBI surveillance as part of a programme called Cointelpro, the goals of which included “[preventing] the coalition of militant Black nationalist groups” and “[preventing] the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement”.

J Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director until his death in 1972, once deemed the Black Panther Party itself “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country”, as noted by The New York Times .

On 4 December 1969, before dawn, 14 police officers raided Hampton’s residence at 2337 West Monroe Street. More than 80 shots were fired; Hampton and Mark Clark, also a member of the Black Panther Party, both died.

No one involved in the raid was ever convicted of a crime. In 1982, the US government, the City of Chicago, and Cook County agreed to pay a $1.82m settlement to survivors of the raid as well as Hampton’s and Clark’s families, without admitting any wrongdoing.

Judas and the Black Messiah examines the story of William O’Neal (portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield, who is up for Best Supporting Actor alongside Kaluuya), who was an FBI informant in the lead-up to Hampton’s and Clark’s deaths.

As O’Neal recounted in a 1989 interview with the PBS programme Eyes on the Prize , he was around 19 years old when he was caught along with a friend stealing a car, after which he got a call from an FBI agent asking him to join the Black Panther Party.

“Stealing a car and all of a sudden having the FBI, having a case with the FBI, the thought of really going to jail got my attention,” O’Neal said. “And, so when he asked me to join the Black Panther Party, and he used terms, he never used the word informant. He always said, ‘You're working for me,’ and I associated him as the FBI. So all of a sudden I was working for the FBI, which, in my mind, at that point, I associated with being an FBI agent. So I felt good about it. I felt like I was working undercover for the FBI doing something good for the finest police organisation in America. And so I was pretty proud.”

Referring to the raid in which Hampton and Clark were killed, O’Neal’s uncle told the Chicago Reader after O’Neal’s death in 1990 that O’Neal “never thought it would come to all this”.

In 1989, O’Neal said he felt “betrayed” by the raid, telling PBS: “I felt like if anyone should have known it was going to be a raid that morning, I should have known, also. I felt like I could have been caught in that raid. I was there that night, and I felt like if I'd have laid down I probably would have been a victim, so I felt betrayed, I felt like I was expendable. I felt like, like perhaps I was on the wrong side. ... I felt like I should have known the raid was coming down. I felt like it was probably excessive. You know, I felt like it was a surgical strike, you know, and I was really angry for quite a few days. Quite a few days.”

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