[Spoilers for Judas and the Black Messiah]
Next week will see the release of the much anticipated biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah. In celebration of the upcoming HBO Max release, Warner Bros hosted a virtual summit for the film with a series of panels featuring everyone from stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield to supermodel Ebonee Davis and rap pioneer Chuck D of Public Enemy.
The upcoming HBO Max and theatrical release follows the true story of William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), a low-level thief and con man turned F.B.I. informant who is tasked with infiltrating and spying on the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. His clandestine efforts, funded by the U.S. government, ultimately led to to the death of the party’s chairman, Fred Hampton, and the eventual demise of that sector of the Civil Rights movement.
Lakeith Stanfield Gets Emotional During a Key Scene in Judas and the Black Messiah
In the final panel, hosted by Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery, Judas and the Black Messiah star Lakeith Stanfield talked about a wide variety of experiences making the biopic. However, a constant theme of his talk pointed to an inherent discomfort when it came to portraying such a dubious, yet little known historical figure.
O’Neal, in many justifiable ways, is seen as the Benedict Arnold of the Black Power movement in the late 1960’s and 70’s, so Lakeith Stanfield having conflicting feelings about portraying the real-life figure is understandable. During the interview, Lakeith Stanfield revealed how playing the role of William O’Neal impacted him emotionally
“Also I had internal conflict the whole time. With everything the character was doing, I was conflicted about it. So, I guess you can kind of see that working in the character as well. You can see that. Like I hate doing this. I hate being here. When I was in the apartment having to poison Fred, I was literally sick that day.
I couldn’t stop compulsively crying. And Shaka’s like, ‘We don’t need that in this moment.’ So I had to work it all out and try and position myself in the right place and frame of mind. But it was so real. Daniel to me was Fred [Hampton]. In that house. In those clothes. I felt like I was O’Neal and I had to do this. Yeah it was intense.”
In the film, the F.B.I. increasingly cranks up the pressure on their informant, which in turn puts O’Neal in increasingly high pressure situations. Stanfield’s own internal conflict with playing the real world figure only adds layers of complexity to his performance. O’Neal goes from simply reporting on the motives and organizational structure of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, to eventually being forced into attempted murder. All at the behest of our own United States government, via the COINTELPRO program, masterminded by the F.B.I. and J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen).
Lakeith Stanfield’s emotional response to the scene is also a credit to director Shaka King, who transports the viewer into the time period and home of Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers. Everything from the production design and costumes to the cinematography and direction adds to the tension and hopelessness found in the Civil Rights movement during the Black Power era.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a film full of standout performances, but Lakeith Stanfield’s portrayal of the government mole is the hardest one to forget once you see it. Knowing how deeply he was impacted by playing O’Neal only adds to the complexity of his performance, and it will be interesting to see how much award consideration is given to Stanfield in the coming weeks and months.
Judas and the Black Messiah Official Synopsis
FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?
Judas and the Black Messiah is in theaters on February 12th as well as available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release. Are you excited for the upcoming release? What is your favorite Lakeith Stanfield performance? Let us know in the comment section below or over on our social media!