Judas and the Black Messiah Director Defends Casting Daniel Kaluuya

Writer/director Shaka King doesn’t anticipate criticisms like those of Kaluuya in “Get Out,” Cynthia Erivo in “Harriet,” or David Oyelowo in “Selma.”

Judas and the Black Messiah,” starring Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton, suddenly became one of the most anticipated movies of the fall season when Warner Bros. dropped the first trailer earlier this week. But the casting of Kaluuya, a British-born actor, as an American civil rights has elicited some criticisms, a la Brits Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. But “Judas the Black Messiah” director Shaka King said that the casting comes from a “diasporic way of thinking.”

“I’m well aware of the debate around British actors playing American Black, iconic figures,” King said during a panel attended by Variety. “But I was born in America, my family is Caribbean and I have a South African name so I am, literally, emblematic of a diasporic way of thinking.”

Hampton, who fought alongside the Black Panthers for freedom for the Black community and an end to police brutality, was assassinated by the FBI at the age of 21 in 1969. The outspoken and charismatic activist found himself in the line of fire of the government, the FBI, and the police.

“Kidnapped Africans ended up all around the world,” King said. “We have a lot more in common than people think, in terms of our experience and trying to overthrow white supremacy.”

Kaluuya previously received criticisms for his Oscar-nominated role in “Get Out” from actor Samuel L. Jackson, who said his character should have been played by an American.

“The Panthers, ideologically, were very international,” King said. “So I can’t imagine there would be an objection. Maybe there would be, but I didn’t go into this thinking there would be.”

“There is a legitimate question concerning people in the community: will the actor colonize that?” Fred Hampton, Jr. said during the event. “And we would have and do hold them to a standard of respecting and being able to relate to the legacy of Chairman Fred, and not just with Daniel’s character.”

While King is confident in the casting and portrayal of Kaluuya, he did admit during the event that “we could have done a better job of having more powerful roles for the women,” he said. “We have two major ones. They definitely have a presence in the movie and the job that they did is truly incredible.” The film features Dominique Fishback playing Deborah Johnson, and Dominique Thorne as a fictional character.

Previously known as the “Untitled Fred Hampton Project / Jesus Is My Homeboy,” the film is directed and produced by King (2013’s “Newlyweeds”), making his studio debut from his screenplay written with Will Berson, and a story by King, Berson, and Kenny and Keith Lucas. The movie is produced by Ryan Coogler with King and Charles D. King.

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