Shaka King, director of the highly anticipated biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah, says the film is meant to portray a version of Fred Hampton and The Black Panthers that doesn’t get discussed in America’s retelling of the communist organization and the radicals who purveyed their message of liberation for Black and oppressed peoples. King has said it is his hope that the film will be able to “correct the record” of the organization’s history and the tragic events of the film, specifically, the FBI and Chicago Police assassination of 21-year-old Black Panther Leader Fred Hampton.
Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of the FBI’s plan to infiltrate and eliminate the Black Panther Party (who were purported to be, according to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “…the greatest threat to internal security of the country”) by stifling the influence of one of its chapter leaders, Deputy Chairman of the Illinois chapter Fred Hampton. With the help of FBI informant, William O’Neal, the FBI plotted to assassinate the leader, hoping they could silence the party for good.
The film is anchored by career-best performances from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, who portray Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neal, respectively. Kaluuya, in particular, is completely immersed in the Black Panther leader, exuding in full his charisma, conviction, and dedication to revolutionary change.
For all intents and purposes, Judas and the Black Messiah accomplishes its goal of challenging the historical revisionism surrounding the Black Panthers, but as with all Hollywood adaptations, its scope is limited, and the drama necessitated to craft a compelling narrative means some historical liberties were taken.
Fortunately, much has been written and filmed about the Black Panthers and their legacy. If you’re interested in learning more about the group and what they accomplished, this article will point you in the direction of media that can help you gain a fuller understanding of the Panthers, their accomplishments, and their place in American history.
1. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.
Considered to be a definitive history of the Black Panthers, Black Against Empire is a comprehensive analysis of the organization, from its beginning to the end of the iteration established by leaders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The book serves as an excellent introduction and overview of the organization as a whole and challenges many of the myths and negative perceptions surrounding them. At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from their political and ideological foundations, or the organization’s internal struggles and contradictions that contributed to its eventual downfall.
2. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – PBS
A sprawling documentary about the history of the Black Panther Party as told by those who lived it, PBS’ acclaimed documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, features a trove of archival footage and interviews from surviving Party members Elaine Brown, Kathleen Cleaver, Ericka Huggins, Emory Douglas, and more. Though limited in scope, the film is a great way to begin developing a deeper understanding of the organization and their mission.
3. Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers by Bobby Seale and Steven Shames
A collaboration between Black Panther Co-Founder Bobby Seale and photographer Stephen Shames, Power to the People is a historical chronicle of the Black Panther Party including both interviews with members of the Party and photographs; this collection will shed light on pivotal moments throughout the Party’s history for readers.
4. Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson
Because of the Black Panther Party’s belief in self-defense and militancy, crucial social programs and community initiatives they fostered are often ignored or dismissed by the American public. In Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson dedicates her time to providing an analysis of the Party’s community health program and their work to connect health justice to the larger struggle against racism. This book will undoubtedly help readers see past the typically sensationalist presentation of the organization, and perhaps even allow them to see why these programs, not the Party’s philosophy of self-defense, were what threatened the status quo in a way that made those in power uncomfortable.
5. The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas
Jeffrey Haas, the attorney who represented the survivors of the attack and assassination of Fred Hampton, was at the police station the morning after the murder, speaking with Deborah Johnson, who was eight months pregnant with her and Hampton’s son. In his book, The Assassination of Fred Hampton, Haas gives a detailed account of his time representing the survivors and uncovering the plot to murder the Black Panther leader, which could be traced all the way up to the office of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. This is a foundational piece of history covering the moments depicted in Judas and the Black Messiah, and will shed light on the illegal actions taken by the government to silence a people’s movement.