What is “Judas and the Black Messiah” about? What you need to know before watching


On Feb. 12, “Judas and the Black Messiah” released on HBO Max to major fanfare. Even as someone who knew what was going to happen, it kept me on the edge of my seat.

It’s a story that needed to be told and should be a part of the education curriculum. If you want to watch the movie and want a little knowledge going into it, here are some things you should know.

Fred Hampton 

Hampton, played by Daniel Kuluuya, was born on Aug. 30, 1948, and was assassinated on Dec. 4, 1969. He was the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party and was an advocate of unity and social change. 

He founded the Rainbow Coalition, a multicultural movement that brought together the Panthers, the Young Lords and the Young Patriots. The coalition engaged in joint action against poverty, corruption, police brutality, and substandard housing. 

The FBI began to investigate him in 1967 calling him a radical threat. This was a year before O’Neal infiltrated the organization and two years before the raid on his home where they killed him. He was only 21. 

William O’Neal 

Lakeith Stanfield took on the duty of playing O’Neal on the big screen. O’Neal became an FBI informant at the age of 17 after being arrested for stealing a car and driving it across state lines. The film shows clips from the documentary Eyes On the Prize, where he talks about his participation in the investigation that led to the assassination of Hampton. 

After the events of the movie, O’Neal entered the witness protection program and took on the name William Hart. According to the movie, the day the documentary was released, O’Neal killed himself. 

Deborah Johnson a.k.a. Akua Njeri

Played by Dominique Fishback, she first met Hampton when she was a student at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago. As seen in the film, their first conversation was about poetry. Njeri, who went by Johnson then, helped with the free breakfast program and the Spurgeon “Jake” Winters Free People’s Medical Care Center, which she canvassed door-to-door and solicited doctors to volunteer time.

She also contributed to the Panthers’ free prison busing program for families of the incarcerated. She is one of the seven survivors of the raid and was pregnant at the time. Njeri and her son were consulted for the movie. 

Roy Mitchell 

Mitchell, played by Jesse Plemons, was the FBI agent that recruited O’Neal as an informant. In his Obituary in the Chicago Tribune it says he specialized in “persuading witnesses to talk.”

He had as many as nine informants within the Panthers that led to the assassination. 

J. Edgar Hoover 

Hoover, played by Martin Sheen, was the head honcho in taking down the Black Panther Party with the use of the illegal FBI Program called COINTELPRO Program. It targeted Black liberation leaders including Malcom X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elijah Muhammad and many more. 

Hoover was the one who deemed Hampton as the “Black Messiah.” The FBI named its headquarters after Hoover, who also was part of the false equivalence of comparing the Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan. 

None of the people, including Hoover were held accountable for the raid. 

Spurgeon “Jake” Winters 

When Algee Smith took the role of Winters, he said there wasn’t a lot of information available to learn about the man. However, Winters played a very important role in the history of the Black Panther Party. 

Winters was involved in a shootout with the police that led to his death and the death of two officers. That event made Hoover use more extreme measures in attacking the Panthers, ultimately leading to the assassination of Hampton. 

To honor Winters and express what he meant to their party, the Panthers made the Spurgeon “Jake” Winters Free People’s Medical Care Center, a free medical clinic for poor black people in Chicago. 

Mark Clark 

Portrayed by Jermaine Fowler, Clark first started with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before finding his way into the Panthers. 

He was a proponent against the discrimination in education and employment and started a chapter of the Panthers in Peoria, Illinois before he was killed the night of the assassination.

He fired the single bullet shot from the Panthers’ after he was shot in the chest by police. 

The Night of the Assassination 

The night remains mostly factual in the movie. The officers raided Hampton’s home and fired around 100 shots, while the Panthers only shot once due to a reflex from Clark after being shot by the police. 

The only difference is in the movie, Hampton doesn’t wake up after being drugged by O’Neal. However, according to Njeri, Hampton had his eyes open and couldn’t really move but was conscious. After Hampton was shot, an officer says “he’s good and dead now” which she says actually happened. 

In the court case years later, the police claimed that it was a shootout with the Panthers firing first, which later led to the ruling of their deaths being justifiable. 

Judas and the Black Messiah is currently showing in theaters and is streaming on HBO Max until March 14. 

Reporter & columnist Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.