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Akua Njeri Watching the Black Panther Tragedy Judas and the Black Messiah, – Deadline

On December 4, 1969, Akua Njeri was Deborah Johnson, a 19-year-old girl who was more than eight months pregnant with the child of her fiancé Fred Hampton, president of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Through the Shaka King-headed Judas and the Black Messiah, the tragic events of that evening are detailed in a bloody scene in which the FBI and local law enforcement broke through the door where they and 10 others were sleeping. They threw aside Johnson (played by Dominique Fishback), very pregnant, then shot Hampton (who had been sedated by FBI confidant / informant William O’Neal) as part of the FBI Cointel program. Njeri and the son she gave birth to shortly thereafter, Fred Hampton Jr, are the Keepers of the President Fred’s Memory Flame, and they trusted King and co-producers Ryan Coogler and Charles King to relive the Hampton’s life as a revolutionary. Here, Njeri explains why it was important to the legacy of Hampton Sr. and the Black Panthers, even if it meant seeing that painful night happen again. The film is nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Song, Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor for its principal Daniel Kaluuya (Fred Hampton) and LaKeith Stanfield (O’Neal).

‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Wins Outstanding Film, Chadwick Boseman, Regina King, Daniel Kaluuya & More Nab Black Reel Awards

DEADLINE: It’s hard for many to imagine that the targeted assassination of Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah could happen to an American citizen. What made you say yes to bring this tragic night to the fore?

NJERI: The Black Panther Party, which is chaired by Fred Hampton Jr, our committee met and discussed. He had met Ryan Coogler before, at a flea market, and they discussed everything But the film because it was not yet in the mix. We had a meeting at the Hampton House, which we are trying to save as a museum. I met Ryan and Daniel, Dominique, Shaka and everyone and we had a seven hour meeting. He went at one or two in the morning, and I learned a lot from Daniel who he was. President Fred Jr asked someone to take a tour of Chicago’s worst neighborhood, and they did. They went to a K-Town neighborhood in Chicago. They had never been to Chicago that I knew, and had been there at 2 am and that was just when people were being killed. They convinced us that they were there to learn, not to tell us who the Black Panther Party was, or who we were. It clicked really well and we went to do the movie. Navigation has not always been smooth. We had a lot of debates, arguments, fights. But for the most part, we were very satisfied with the film, with the result. Like a lot of people.

DEADLINE: As the filmmakers shaped the characters and the narrative, what were your biggest concerns that they needed to do well?

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NJERI: It was important that the policies of the Black Panther Party were not compromised. It was also important that other groups and organizations very present in the 60s and shown during this film were not disrespected. As much truth as possible, based on facts. I think it was done in the movie and a lot of people were amazed at how much Dominique captured me and how Daniel captured President Fred. It was a powerful piece. Also, how William O’Neal was portrayed. It was a great group effort, I think and myself and President Fred Hampton Jr were very happy to be the only cultural experts and consultants on the film.

DEADLINE: You are experiencing O’Neal’s betrayal of your fiancé. What was it like to see him dramatized? I didn’t realize he had committed suicide until he was dropped off there, there is the end. Shocking. How complex was it having to relive that moment in your life, that betrayal by an FBI informant?

NJERI: Before watching it on screen, I watched LaKeith Stanfield in action. And I said to him, ‘You’re doing a hell of a great job, but I can’t hug you. Because you are Bill. But he brought it, he really brought it. It was so powerful. He was O’Neal, with his manners, the things he did. It’s always difficult, because I don’t talk about it or watch it, I see it again, at some point. Today, I still haven’t watched the movie from start to finish. I’m going to get up and pretend I have to go to the bathroom, for a break. It arouses a lot of emotions, but this movie is an opportunity for people to have a real discussion about the government and its relationship and its attack on the Black Panther Party, and that legacy. These attacks continue today. I’m really proud of the film and to be able to be a part of it. I think all the actors did a wonderful job bringing this portrait to the audience today, now.

DEADLINE: You see law enforcement’s twisted obsessions in Judas and the Black Messiah and another award nominee The United States Vs. Billie Holliday, where, rather than trying to stop the lynching of blacks, the FBI instead focused on torturing Holliday to keep him from singing Strange Fruit. Why the obsession of law enforcement on Fred Hampton?

NJERI: The president of the house where Fred grew up, the Hampton House where we are campaigning to create a museum, his parents’ phone was bugged when he was 13 or 14 years old. This was before he got involved in the Black Panther Party. The government recognized his organizational skills even at a young age. His case began when he began organizing recreational facilities where black children couldn’t even go swimming in Maywood. I remember back in the days of the Black Panther Party we would tell people that the government was waging war on the black community and that the number one threat identified by FBI Director J Edgar Hoover to American security was the Black Panther Party. People would say, “You are not that important. Why would the US government want to wipe out the Black Panther party? Then when the documentation came from the government itself, people said, “Oh, I didn’t know that. And as much as we have talked about and exposed in the Black Panther newspaper, incidents that have happened across the country during attacks on our offices, mass arrests and destruction of any kind of donations we have obtained regarding our health care programs, social programs, breakfasts, medical programs, free shoes and clothes, people still didn’t want to believe the government would do that. Even the idea of ​​maintaining order was sparked by slave hunters. The police considered this slave to be catching, and it’s hard for people to accept that, when your whole life has beaten your head that you can get up by your boots and everyone is equal and we can all of us sit down and sing Kumbaya. This is not the reality.

DEADLINE: William O’Neal was exposed as the inside FBI source who helped organize the murder of your fiancé President Fred Hampton, and ultimately committed suicide. Why did you go in its wake?

Judas and the Black Messiah
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NJERI: I really went to show my disrespect for O’Neal’s collaboration with the state in the assassination, by providing them with a diagram of our apartment where President Fred slept. I had big plans. I was going to spit in O’Neal’s face and turn the coffin over, among other things I had planned. But when I got to the coffin and saw it, I was frozen. Because it didn’t sound like O’Neal. I repeated to a member of the Black Panther Party who came up next to me, I said, it’s not him, it’s not him. I don’t know if he was given a new identity or what, but I never believed it was O’Neal. There was a story of how in a cocaine-induced high he was very paranoid that someone was going to catch him. And he fled down the Eisenhower Freeway, got hit by a car, and was killed.

DEADLINE: Do you believe that, as opposed to the theory of suicide?

NJERI: Yes.

DEADLINE: We are watching you, unbelievably pregnant, having to go through this ordeal. We see you being thrown like a rag doll as your child’s father is killed. Soon you became a mother. What has been the most difficult thing to raise a child in such chaos, hardship and heartache?

NJERI: I guess I thought in my head that I was responsible for taking care of our son. And it was very difficult through this process, until the birth. I told the doctor that I wanted a natural delivery, although my fear of seeing blood might overwhelm me. The doctor reminded me: “ No Mom, you wanted a natural birth, what I went through and I was glad I did. As our kid grew and developed, and even before he could talk, walk, or even sit down, I would tell him about his father and the Black Panther Party, how it started and all that. I could put my hand. I would have these discussions with him whether or not he could answer, even as a baby. I knew I would have to fight a lot of the Black Panther Party misinformation and lies and untruths. I wanted to give him the best information possible so he could better navigate the world and his life, being who he was. And my being the mother of this baby, and our son being the child of two revolutionaries.

DEADLINE: We briefly see Fred Hampton Sr in The Trial of the Chicago 7, and so his memory is preserved in two Oscar nominated films for Best Picture, and we got to know his organizational skills and his ability to unite people. What’s the most rewarding thing that has come out of trusting these filmmakers and seeing your story told in a big movie studio like this?

NJERI: The whole team, they were ready to listen and to learn, even the actors. Not only on the job, but they would come and we had discussions with them to get them more familiar with the real story. There’s still a lot of misinformation, but I think the movie is so powerful that it keeps the conversation going and challenges people to question everything they see and read, to try to find some truth in what is projected. He gave people the opportunity to be able to speak with their own voice, in their own communities. And not just accepting the words of politicians or quoting activists without citation. It is a lot to shake up the old guard. Not necessarily old guard meaning the elderly; I’m talking about questioning the young leaders who are emerging, who are salaried and who take control of the movement, and our ability to speak for ourselves. I think it’s created a great debate and a lot of discussion and conversation about what’s going on. Even outside of that, it makes a lot of people take some sort of action.

And I hope the nominees for the film take home all the awards they can, for the sake of their careers. But I am very happy with the end product.

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