- In the upcoming movie "Judas and the Black Messiah," Black British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton.
- The casting has been criticized on social media and beyond as some believe a Black American should have received the role.
- Kaluuya responded to the backlash during an interview with Variety.
- "I'm a vessel for a spirit that is going through me," Kaluuya said. "It's important for us as Black people across the diaspora to be together."
- He added, "And that's not to discount what Black Americans feel, what they've been through. It's not about me. It's about chairman Fred Hampton."
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Though Fred Hampton, the legendary chairman of the Black Panther Party, has been featured in countless documentaries and most recently was a character in the Netflix drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7," there has never been a biopic on him. Until now.
With the upcoming release of "Judas and the Black Messiah" coming in February, director Shaka King ("Newlyweeds") has done something that the likes of Antoine Fuqua and Forest Whitaker were never able to do. And that might be why his casting of Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out," "Widows") as Hampton has fallen under scrutiny.
The release of the movie's trailer over the summer was hit with criticism on social media due to the British-born actor playing Hampton, an Illinois native.
In a Variety story on the long journey to make the movie, Kaluuya addressed the negative reaction to his casting.
"I'm a vessel for a spirit that is going through me," he began. "It's important for us as Black people across the diaspora to be together. And that's not to discount what Black Americans feel, what they've been through. It's not about me. It's about chairman Fred Hampton."
Along with capturing the passion and intensity that made Hampton a polarizing figure in the 1960s, Variety also reported that Kaluuya traveled to Chicago to get the blessing of Hampton's family to play the role before filming began.
"We had to declare who we were and what our intentions were," he said of the experience.
Kaluuya catching heat for playing an American role is not unique. In 2017, Samuel L. Jackson spoke out about how the movie "Get Out," which centers on the nuances of racism in America through the eyes of an interracial couple, where Kaluuya was the lead, might have benefited from an American Black actor in the role.
"There are a lot of Black British actors that work in this country, all the time," Jackson said during an interview with New York radio station Hot 97. "I tend to wonder what would that movie have been with an American brother who really understands that in a way."
"Because Daniel grew up in a country where they've been interracial dating for a hundred years. Britain, there's only about eight real white people left in Britain," he continued. "So what would a brother from America made of that role? I'm sure the director helped. Some things are universal, but everything ain't."
Soon after Jackson's comments, Kaluuya responded by telling GQ: "I resent that I have to prove I'm Black."
Other Black British actors have also been criticized for being cast in films that feature Black American icons, including David Oyelowo for taking the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma" and Cynthia Erivo for being cast as Harriet Tubman in her eponymous biopic.
Still, back in August, King defended his casting of Kaluuya.
"I'm well aware of the debate around British actors playing American Black, iconic figures," the director said during a panel discussion. "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."
"Judas and the Black Messiah," also starring Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery and Algee Smith, premieres February 12.
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