When news began to spread regarding the production of “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the film detailing the last days of Black Panther Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton’s life, and how an aide infiltrated the organization at the behest of the FBI, those who knew the charismatic leader had questions.
Is Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. involved in the project?
Did Fred Jr. give his blessing?
It turns out that several projects had been brought to Hampton Jr.’s attention over the years — and for this one he had a request of his own: He required the project’s stakeholders to meet him where many of the pivotal events leading up to his father’s killing by Chicago police officers took place.
Hampton Jr., chairman of the next-generation group Black Panther Party Cubs, met with cast members Daniel Kaluuya, who was cast to play his father in the film, and Dominique Fishback, who was set to play his mother Deborah Johnson (later known as Akua Njeri), along with other cast and crew members.
“We met in ‘K-Town’ at Madison [Street] and Keeler [Avenue]; we met right there,” said Hampton Jr., who was born weeks after his father’s murder. “That’s our office — the streets — and our relationship has been ongoing.”
Shaka King, the film’s director, met with Hampton Jr. several times before production, including a visit to Hampton’s childhood home in Maywood.
King said one of the meetings — an intense conversation about how the script had been written without Hampton Jr.’s knowledge — lasted between 10 and 12 hours.
“He is his father’s son,” King said. “Fred Jr.’s time on set with us was incredibly useful. We re-did scenes, and he pointed out minor details. We’re doing a movie about these people’s lives; we had to get it right.”
Speaking before he’d seen the film, Hampton Jr. said of its cast: “There’s respect.”
Hampton Jr., and Njeri later joined the film as consultants on the set — which was in Cleveland, not Chicago.
“That was one of the struggles we had; the city adds a certain grit — no slight to Cleveland,” said Hampton Jr. “Just even a conversation in certain locations. It taps into other war stories and certain experiences Chairman Fred and the Illinois Black Panther Party impacted on the party and the people.”
And the cast reveled in having Hampton Jr. and Njeri’s say in the film.
“He enriched what we were doing,” said Kaluuya. “To have him and Mama Akua was invaluable to have a part of this process.”