Former Black Panther member and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, and Darrell Britt-Gibson, the actor who portrays him in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” would love to meet one day.
Rush, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party Illinois chapter, said he’s seen the film, which details the events leading up a December 1969 predawn raid that led to the killing of chapter chairman Fred Hampton, 21, and Mark Clark, by the Chicago Police Department, in conjunction with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office and the FBI.
“The film was emotionally engaging,” said Rush. “It’s a good film that needs to be seen. It will bring Fred’s story into sharp focus — his personality, his life in general and certainly his assassination into sharp focus. We must always keep in mind that Fred Hampton’s assassination was the only state-sanctioned assassination of a political leader on American soil. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination wasn’t state-sanctioned. John F. Kennedy’s assassination wasn’t state-sanctioned.”
And like most films based on true events, this one is missing key events, Rush says. However, he says “Judas” shows the extent of the fear the FBI, led by director J. Edgar Hoover, had of the Panthers — mainly Hampton — at the time.
“The film was accurate up till a point; it’s not the full story of the Black Panthers, nor the Illinois Black Panther Party,” said Rush. “... Fred was considered a national threat. Hoover was afraid of Fred’s potential to be a national spokesman. They had to be aware of the fact that we were working tirelessly to get Fred out of the country.
“I would encourage people to go see the movie. It’s a ‘Hollywood’ version of the truth, but people will be more knowledgeable about the heroic and valiant contributions of these young men and young women who dedicated themselves to try to uplift the Black community.”
While on the set of “Judas,” Britt-Gibson began to understand the gravity of re-creating such a pivotal time in Rush’s life.
“It’s a little scary because you know you’re [portraying] someone’s life, and you put everything into it, and you hope that you’ve done them justice,” said Britt-Gibson, who says there’s a plan in the works to meet the congressman one day. “It’s such a blessing to be chosen to play someone like Mr. Rush, knowing what he stood for, what he fought for, what he endured, and what the [Black Panthers] endured.
“They were kids; it’s truly incredible what they were tasked with. And also incredible what they accomplished.”
And did Britt-Gibson do right by Rush?
“His character had very little to say, and I’m alright with that,” said Rush. “[Britt-Gibson] did a fine job, and I look forward to meeting with the young man.”
Over the years, Rush has utilized his platform to keep Hampton’s memory alive — and remind the masses who’s responsible for the charismatic leader’s death.
On Dec. 4, 2019 — during the 50th anniversary of Hampton’s murder — Rush tweeted a thread where he said, in part:
“Tragically, Fred’s murder was not an accident. It was planned by the highest levels of law enforcement in our nation. The FBI conspired with the CPD to assassinate Fred, marking one of the few instances of political assassination by law enforcement agencies of this country.”
And last year, Rush released a statement to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying, in part:
“Madam Speaker, let us never forget the courage, conviction, and compassion of Fred Hampton. Despite this government assassinating him at only 21 years of age, Chairman Fred’s work and legacy are everlasting.”
During a Zoom conversation about the film with Triton College students this week, director Shaka King said one of the obstacles in making a film about Hampton was what film industry insiders told him was “lack of name recognition” associated with the activist. Many of the film’s cast members hadn’t learned of Hampton in any of the schools they attended.
Rush says his late friend’s legacy is often seen in the political power wielded by Black people over time. He cites Cook County State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan’s ouster from political office in 1972, three years after Hampton’s killing, and the historic elections of Mayor Harold Washington, Sen. Carol Moseley Braun (the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Senate) and President Barack Obama.
“Once you connect those dots, you can see how important [Hampton] was at 21 years old — even 50 years later, “ said Rush. “He was having such a profound effect on politics in the nation. His phrase, ‘You can kill a revolutionary, but you cannot kill a revolution,’ shows what we’re going through right now.”