Daniel Kaluuya gives arguably his most important performance to-date in Judas and the Black Messiah, taking on the role of a historical figure that has him primed as a lead contender for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
For the British-born Kaluuya, he says that he knew general information about Chairman Fred Hampton, who he plays in the film, but not anything ultra-specific before prepared for the film.
"I didn't know that much," Kaluuya told Shadow and Act ahead of the film's premiere. "I knew like a brief amount about Chairman Fred, just from like his late teens [and] early twenties...being a young Black man frustrated with injustices that I was experiencing and seeing around me. And so I gravitated toward the philosophies and ideas outlook of the Black Panther Party. I would read certain books here and watch a documentary here and there. I always knew that I wanted to get a deep dive and have an intimate knowledge of it.
But for Hampton specifically, Kaluuya was troubled after knowing the full, true story, especially in regards to Hampton's age at the time of his death. "With Chairman Fred, I remember seeing the date he was assassinated and go, 'Wait, hold on...the date he was born on that didn't even make sense. Like, 'How old was he?' And then going on a Wikipedia hunt to go, 'That's wrong? What I've just seen must be wrong.' That was like...wow. And so that's what I knew about it. I knew enough, but I knew I knew enough to [also] want to dive deeper."
The actor also talked about how he views the film in light of the police brutality and anti-racism protests that swept the globe last summer.
"I remember after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor... the reaction to it with those protests that went worldwide," he explained. "I remember we were talking to Shaka [King] and talking to a number of people in the cast and it was like, 'Wow, man, I can't believe we just did that. We've done something.' What it pinpointed is that I feel like Chairman Fred and the Black Panther Party articulated how a lot of people are feeling in this current moment. And they had the words, the ideas and the strategies to combat it. Not only are they able to go, 'This is what it is,' [but then] we go, 'This is what we want to do about it.' And so, that felt like an incredible privilege to be a part of a project that is going to hopefully give people a context to formulate their ideas on the injustices in this current moment."
Ultimately, he hopes that people who view the film are able to learn more about the Black Panther Party, especially how they were able to work with other communities without compromising their own community and ideals.
"That's not a guarantee [that people will take to the film], but I really wish that they do want to take it and have an intimate view on what it means to them. Also [to] kind of be clear about the truth. And the truth is that this is an organization that loved their own loved the community, loved the Black community...and they exhibited [and] expressed that through healing the sick, feeding kids, educating kids, offering free legal aid...they had functional ways to manifest their love for their own and love for themselves. And also the incredible work that they did with the Rainbow Coalition, finding points of interest with people that they have a conflict with, but not compromising their love of their own and love of Blackness through that. A lot of times we live in a day and age where it's either/or. And if a deal or strategy comes your way that sacrifices your love of Blackness, don't take it. But they've managed to find a way to do both in order to make the idea and the ideology and the philosophies that they believed in stronger."
Judas and the Black Messiah is in select theaters now
Watch the full interview below: