Photo credits: Warner Brothers Media
Ryan Koogler and Shaka King’s new biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah hit select theaters and HBO Max on February 12.
However, decades after his 1969 death, it delves into the remarkable—but short—life of renowned Black Panther Party leader and civil rights activist, Fred Hampton. But beyond his impact, we see the infamous betrayal carried out by William O’Neal.
O’Neal was a fellow Black Panther Party member and friend of Hampton’s who acted as an informant to the FBI. He actively provided information, which led to Hampton’s murder-at the hands of the U.S. government and the law enforcement apparatus for Cook County, Illinois’ city of Chicago.
During Black History Month, Hampton’s harrowing story offers a sobering history lesson on what it means to stand against racism in the USA. A closer look at the cast and the real historical figures portrayed in Judas and the Black Messiah is provided below (Jean-Philipe, 2021).
Daniel Kaluuya Stars as Fred Hampton
Fred Hampton (pictured left_, played by Get Out and Queen & Slim star Daniel Kaluuya (pictured right), was just 21 years of age when he was killed by the FBI and Chicago’s Cook County law enforcement.
Hampton was shot during the early morning hours of December 4, 1969. A 14-man police squad raided his apartment while he was unconscious. This was after FBI informant, William O’Neal, drugged him with barbiturates just the night before.
Hampton was an ardent activist and member of the NAACP in his teens. The government viewed him (for being the chairman of Chicago’s Black Panther Party) as a threat to the country’s security.
Though the party and Hampton were vocal about their distrust and distaste for the police, the chairman was a strong young man, a natural leader, and a great orator.
The FBI learned from O’Neal that Hampton was set to gain more influence–by being promoted to chief of staff of the national Panther party.
Despite his young age, Hampton was already a force in the community; He formed Chicago’s race-unifying Rainbow Coalition, according to PBS. He organized local rallies and created a free breakfast program for pre-schoolers (Jean-Philipe, 2021).
LaKeith Stanfield Stars as William O’Neal
Known actor LaKeith Stanfield (pictured right) portrays William O’Neal (pictured left), a former car thief. At the age of 17 in 1966, according to the Chicago Tribune, O’Neal was recruited by FBI agent Roy Mitchell.
Mitchell tasked the two-bit criminal with acting as an informant. O’Neal soon infiltrated the Chicago Black Panthers. After pledging a false allegiance to the Black Panthers, he eventually became the group’s head of security.
Under the guidance of Mitchell, O’Neal got close to Hampton and provided information that was key to executing the leader’s murder. He came in possession of a detailed map outlined Hampton’s apartment–the place where he was killed.
O’Neal was sent to drug Hampton at the midnight hours of December 4, 1969. Four years later, O’Neal’s role as an informant was publicized. He was then entered into the federal witness protection program. O’Neal purportedly committed suicide in 1990, per the Chicago Tribune.
Face2Face Africa News reported that a $300 cash payment was part of the menial compensation package O’Neal was paid by law enforcement–to carry out one of the deadliest and most debilitating deceptions against Black America in the 20th century (Jean-Philipe, 2021).
Dominique Fishback Stars as Deborah Johnson
Rising star Dominique Fishback (pictured right), is a young, talented actress who you might have seen in The Deuce and Netflix’s Project Power. Fishback plays Hampton’s fiancee and fellow Black Panther member Deborah Johnson (pictured left).
Johnson now goes by the name Akua Njeri. The then 19-year-old Njeri was lying in bed next to Hampton at the time of the 1969 raid. She months pregnant with her fiance’s son Fred Hampton Jr.—who still carries on his father’s legacy to this day.
Both Njeri and Mr. Hampton, Jr. acted as consultants for Judas and the Black Messiah (Jean-Philipe, 2021).
Martin Sheen Stars as J. Edgar Hoover
Hollywood veteran Martin Sheen (pictured right) gives a great performance as J. Edgar Hoover (pictured left). Hoover (a notoriously wicked enemy of Black America) led the FBI for 48 years.
He targeted both the Black Panther Party and Hampton under his illegal COINTELPRO Program (Counter Intelligence Program). Hoover’s evil legacy of bureaucratic treachery targeted prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders, such as Malcolm X. and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In author Curt Gentry’s book J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and His Secrets, Gentry says Hoover deemed the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
The federal bureaucrat dubbed Hampton a Black “messiah” in light of the young Panther leader’s rising influence. The FBI dictator was directly invested in Mitchell and O’Neal’s investigation.
Hoover personally signed off on bonuses paid out to both men for the work they performed at his bidding (according to The Guardian). The treacherous FBI chief also took part in an attempt to cover up the Bureau’s involvement (Jean-Philipe, 2021).
References: Jean-Philipe, M. (2021, February 12) How the Cast of Judas and the Black Messiah Compares to the Real People They Portray. Retrieved from https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/tv-movies/a35481935/judas-and-the-black-messiah-cast-vs-real-people/
*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.