Why do white people fear Black liberation?
This white fear is centuries old. Within the context of the federal government, the FBI has tracked and vilified Black people for, since forever, notably under J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence program). Through that program, the FBI legally harassed and surveilled civil rights leaders from Martin Luther King Jr to Malcolm X and members of the Black Panther Party such as chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton.
COINTELPRO had multiple goals, among them, to “Prevent the rise of a ‘Messiah’ who could unify, and electrify the militant Black nationalist movement.” And Fred Hampton, a charismatic leader, had the potential to do just that. Hampton was able to unite people despite race and ethnicity—namely poor Black, white and Latinx people—and created the Rainbow Coalition.
The 21-year-old was assassinated in his sleep, thanks to the intel from FBI informant, William O’Neal. Director Shaka King explores this story of one man’s ascension and subsequent betrayal in Judas and the Black Messiah. “A hero dies once but a coward dies a thousand deaths,” King told The Root.
Hampton is quite masterfully portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield completely nailed William O’Neal (down to the subtle gestures and all) and Dominique Fishback became Hampton’s fiancée, Deborah Johnson (who now goes by Akua Njeri). While O’Neal infiltrated the Black Panther Party, providing the FBI with critical information that would lead to Hampton’s assassination, make no mistake, it was white fear that killed him.
In the words of the chairman, “You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution.” Indeed.
We’ve seen Hampton’s revolutionary spirit live on through the Black Lives Matter and the movement for Black lives. Now, after over five decades since his death, the world has the opportunity to take a glimpse into the life of a true Black Messiah.
See Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback and Shaka King reflect on the revolutionary life of Chairman Fred Hampton above.
Judas and the Black Messiah will be in theaters across the nation on Feb. 12, and on HBO Max.