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19 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About "Judas And The Black Messiah" That Are Just Deeply Fascinating

Dominique Fishback would write poems on set, in character, and one of them was actually used in the film.

In case you don't already know about it, Judas and the Black Messiah is an amazing new film from director Shaka King that tells the real-life story of FBI informant William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who infiltrated the Illinois Black Panther Party to keep tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as William O'Neal
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film also stars Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons, and Martin Sheen and is produced by prolific filmmakers Ryan Coogler and Charles D. King.

BuzzFeed recently attended a virtual summit for Judas and the Black Messiah and also had a chance to chat with director Shaka King about his revolutionary film. Here are some fascinating behind-the-scenes facts that we learned.

Note: Mild spoilers ahead!

1. Although it's a dramatic biographical film, Judas and the Black Messiah is actually the brain child of comedian twins the Lucas Brothers.

Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas wearing glasses, hats, and smiling
Bobby Bank / WireImage

Keith and Kenny Lucas wanted to do something slightly unique for a biopic, so they decided to start researching William O'Neal to come at the story from that angle.

2. And they first pitched the idea to director Shaka King in 2016 while working on a comedy pilot for FX with him.

Director Shaka King directing a camera
Glen Wilson / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

"We pitched him our idea, and he was like, this is brilliant," said the Lucases.

3. LaKeith Stanfield was actually against the idea of playing William O'Neal at first.

Behind-the-scenes image of LaKeith Stanfield and Jesse Plemons acting in a scene together
Warner Bros. / Via

Stanfield said that his initial thoughts were, "I hate this guy." But after watching the Eyes on the Prize 2 documentary, Stanfield's mind changed as he was intrigued and felt "there was a sense of regret in between what he was talking about."

4. And he actually thought he was meeting with the filmmakers about the part of Fred Hampton.

1969 black and white photo of Black Panther Fred Hampton testifying at a meeting
Chicago Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty

"For some reason, I just assumed I'd be playing Fred. I was never told I would be playing Fred, I guess it was just wishful thinking in retrospect," said Stanfield.

5. All the archival footage you see sprinkled throughout the film was found by the assistant editors and post-production supervisor, Francis Power.

Archival footage of members of the Black Panther party standing outside
Warner Bros. / Via

Power comes from the documentary world and, according to King, had vast connections to various archives. "He was just giving us gigabytes and gigabytes of footage," said King.

6. But the only footage the filmmakers had to reference for William O'Neal was the Eyes on the Prize 2 documentary that's briefly featured at the end of the film.

Still frame of the real William O'Neal in a documentary saying, "I had no allegiance to the Panthers"
PBS / Via

There was no other footage of O'Neal to use as a resource.

7. So, in order to dig deeper into O'Neal's history, King bought a very rare book called The Badge They Are Trying To Bury for about $800.

Cover of the book showing a drawing of someone using a shovel to bury a police badge
Simon Belt Publishes / Via

King explained that the book is written by a cop who says that William O'Neal framed him for murder.

8. Before filming, the actors actually went to Chicago and met with Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. (Hampton's son) and Mother Akua (formerly known as Deborah Johnson) for SEVEN HOURS.

Warner Bros. / Via, Warner Bros.

At the meeting, Hampton Jr. said, "First of all, I want to know why every single one of you want to do this movie," explained Fishback.

9. And Mother Akua said she gave Dominique Fishback a "hard time" because there were certain traits she needed to see in her.

Dominique Fishback in character as Deborah Johnson in the film, wearing a black beret and leather vest
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

"She got my side look, she got it down pat," laughed Mother Akua.

10. Seeing Daniel Kaluuya and Dominique Fishback in the movie together made Mother Akua very nostalgic.

Deborah and Fred being playful in bed, laughing and smiling
Warner Bros. / Via

"When I saw Daniel and Dominique in that movie, I hadn't realized how much I miss the love and camaraderie. They had a real chemistry. And it made me realize that I miss that," said Akua.

11. Fishback would frequently write poems β€” in character as Deborah Johnson β€” on set, and one of them was actually used in the film.

12. The film's cowriter, Will Berson, had actually written a script for a Fred Hampton film prior to teaming up with the Lucas Brothers and King.

13. Some of the films that influenced King while making Judas and the Black Messiah include The Departed, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City, and the documentary When We Were Kings.

Still frame from the movie "Dog Day Afternoon" of Al Pacino screaming
Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

Lots of Sidney Lumet!

14. The film actually has TWO composers, which is pretty rare.

Shahar Azran / FilmMagic, Todd Williamson / Getty Images

King explained that he first hired musician and composer Craig Harris, but because Harris had never composed for a film before, they knew they needed to pair him with a film composer. Harris suggested Mark Isham, whose other film and TV score credits include 42, Little Fires Everywhere, Black Mirror, The Conjuring, and many, many more.

15. Plans for scoring the film got thrown wildly off course due to the pandemic.

Shaka King watching the actors perform while taking notes
Warner Bros. / Via

The original plan for scoring the film was for Harris and Isham and the film's music editor Marvin Morris to get in a studio with a bunch of jazz musicians and improvise a bunch of music to use as comps, but they were unable to do that because of the pandemic.

16. So, King turned to the film's music supervisor Zach Cowie to get him comps to use in the film, which included songs by iconic jazz artists like Bill Evans and Duke Ellington.

David Redfern / Redferns, Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

King said, "It was great, it created a sort of healthy competition" between the composers and supervisor.

17. Cowie, BTW, was introduced to King by Jesse Plemons (FBI agent Roy Mitchell).

William O'Neal and FBI Agent Roy Mitchell shake hands
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Serendipitous, right?

18. King also brought in friend and musician Quelle Chris who, after seeing some of the footage, ended up providing the music and themes that appear in action sequences like the shootout with the cops.

19. And King described the final product as a "really weird, unique score that's exactly perfect."

Shaka King and crew watching the performance of the film's actors on a monitor
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures


Judas and the Black Messiah is in theaters now and also available on HBO Max for the next 31 days.

Warner Bros.
Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed

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