Oscar 2021: Judas and the Black Messiah

Learning from those who’d lived the story was also key for Judas and the Black Messiah director-producer Shaka King, whose powerful film is nominated for Best Picture. He sought out Fred Hampton Jr., the son of the film’s main subject, Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. He and the other producers sat down with Hampton Jr. and his mother, Akua Njeri, more than a year and a half before filming to show them the script. “It was about establishing a relationship with them, because they wanted to make sure our intentions were pure, that we weren’t going to take advantage of them, that we were going to do right by them and by his legacy,” says King, who adds that Hampton Jr. was on set every day during the shoot.

Judas and the Black Messiah, Shaka King headshot
Courtesy of Warner Bros.; Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah.’ (Inset: Shaka King)

King also read every book and article he could get his hands on about the Black Panthers. He provided a long reading list to star Daniel Kaluuya, who would be playing Hampton; that included everything from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon and The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. King says Kaluuya did a lot of reading about Hampton’s assassination but then decided he needed to go in a different direction. “He said, ‘This is focusing too much on the events of the assassination. I want to sort of read what he read,’ ” says King. “And so then we tracked down the Black Panther reading list. That was really informative for him.”