As expected the film Judas
and the Black Messiah did pretty well at the Academy Awards on Sunday night.
It was the account of the life,
betrayal, and murder of Illinois Black
Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton on December 4, 1969. The movie premiered
at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival was
lauded by critics and showered with honors, British-Ugandan actor Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden
Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and BAFTA Awards for his portrayal of the charismatic Hampton. The film had six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture with Kaluuya again winning
Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Song—Fight for You.
Judas and the Black Messiah was released by Warner Bros. to nearly empty
theaters in February due to the Coronavirus
pandemic and simultaneously on HBO Max. It was directed and produced by
Shaka King, who wrote the screenplay with Will Berson, In addition to Kaluuya it starred Lakeith Stanfield as FBI
informer William O’Neal, Dominique
Fishback as Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah
Johnson, Darrell Britt-Gibson as
Chicago Panther co-founder Bobby Rush,
and a cameo by Martin Sheen as FBI chief J.
Fred Hampton speaking.
Missing from the
film was any depiction of Cook County
State’s Attorney Edward Hanrahan who organized the fatal raid/ambush by a 14-man team
of the state Special Prosecutions Unit
(SAO). Hanrahan boasted
of his role and became a target for the outrage that erupted after Hampton was riddled with bullets fired through a window as he slept on a mattress. But the infamous
raid was really an outgrowth of Hoover’s COINTELPRO
operation aimed at crushing the Panthers nationally, rising Black
Nationalism, and especially at
Hampton’s success in building his own rainbow
coalition across racial divisions
with the Puerto Rican Young Lords, Appalachian White Young Patriots, and Chicano Brown Berets and Young Comancheros.
The Seed's Fred Hampton memorial cover.
his murder, and the aftermath were personal
to me as a Chicago activist at
the time and a member of the Chicago Seed staff collective. Along with the self-described revolutionary greaser paper Rising Up Angry covered the story
closely. We quickly broke the COINTELPRO connection but did not know the
identity of the FBI mole O’Neal
until 1973. He committed suicide in
1990 after being interviewed for the
PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize. The experience had a dramatic effect on the Seed
moving it from counter-cultural flower
power hippie radicalism to a much more militant
the pregnant Deborah Johnson was in
the apartment during the raid and
saw his bullet ridden body. Weeks later Fred Hampton Jr. was born. She remained a Black Panther activist. She changed
her name to Akua Njeri and has
remained an important Black nationalist and socialist leader. Both Njeri
and her son consulted with the production team on the film and were
frequently on the set. She advised Dominique Fishback, who played
her in the film, and was adamant that Fishback not cry during the assassination scene.
She had not done so in 1969 and felt it was an important show of strength for the character and for Black women.
have not yet been able to see the film since I don’t subscribe to HBO Max, but
I hope its Awards will bring it back to re-opened theaters in my area soon.
wrote a poem that her character speaks to Hampton in the film. Although
she talked about that in several press
interviews, I have not been able to find a transcript of the poem or a YouTube
video clip of her speaking it in the movie.
Something to look forward to.
But the first of
two poems written for anniversaries of
the assassination speaks directly to Akua Njeri.
Deborah Paredez is a poet, ethnic studies scholar, and cultural
critic She has published widely on topics including Black and Latinx performance, poetry of war and witness, feminist elegy, and the role of divas in American culture.
Her poetry, essays, and commentary have appeared in The New York Times, Los
Angeles Review of Books, National
Public Radio, Boston Review, The Georgia Review, Feminist
Studies, and elsewhere.
She was a
Co-Founder and for a decade (2009-2019) served as Co-Director of CantoMundo, a national organization for Latinx
poets. She is a founding member of the Poetry
Coalition and currently serves as a board
member of CLMP: Community of
Literary Magazines and Presses, and LitNet: The Literary Network. She is
a professor of creative writing and ethnic
studies at Columbia University.
for Deborah Johnson (Akua Njeri)
—Composed on the 45th anniversary of Fred Hampton's
murder, Chicago IL—
you didn’t look
down or back, spent
the fractured minutes
studying each crease
and curve of the law-
so later you could tell
how it happened:
how you crossed over
his body, how you kept
your hands up
how you didn't
reach for anything
not your opened robe—
nothing—how they said he's good
how you crossed
over the threshold
how you lifted one
and then the other
slippered foot across the ice
how you kept yourself
your bared belly bore
the revolver’s burrowing snout—
—how when the baby starts
to descend, it’s called
it feels like a weight
you cannot bear—lightening
is when you know
it won’t be
long before it’s over
in RHINO. Copyright ©
2015 by Deborah Paredez.
Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas, the poet adopted the Swahili name Haki R. Madhubuti after traveling to Africa in 1974. Madhubuti received an MFA from the University of Iowa and served in the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1963. A member
of the Black Arts Movement, he has
published more than 20 books of poetry, nonfiction, and critical essays, and
his work has been widely anthologized.
Influenced by Gwendolyn Brooks,
Madhubuti writes experimental, free-verse,
politically charged poetry with a staccato rhythm. Over the span of his
career, his poetry has shifted its focus from the personal to the political.
Early work with the Student Non-Violent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC),
the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) informs his activist poetics.
Madhubuti has won an American Book Award, the Kuumba
Workshop Black Liberation Award, the Broadside
Press Outstanding Poet’s Award, and fellowships
from the National Endowment for the
Arts (in both 1969 and 1982) and the National
Endowment for the Humanities.
He wrote this for the 50th anniversary of Hampton’s
He Never Saw the Bullets Coming
born in a time of war
is little memory of
denmark vesey and those who betrayed him,
nat turner’s revolt centuries before the turner diaries,
harriet tubman and the fear her name evoked,
sojourner truth and people running from her words,
frederick douglass refusing to accept whiplash,
marcus garvey daring to organize millions of Black people
without the permission of whites, w.e.b. du bois
committed to thinking outside the box, circle
and lies of white conquerors. ida b. wells
challenging the real fake news. elijah muhammad’s
confirmation of Black as integral to self-definition
and giving malcolm x a voice.
fred hampton daring to tell the people the truth
about their lives decades before black lives
mattered, in a time, as today, where white lives
mattered more as anti-democracy movements entrenched themselves.
betrayal of one’s own kind
is the wisdom of children that is missing
from the blue notes of Black musicians who were
always ahead, not knowing it themselves,
as we revolutionaries pushed, shoved, made up new languages
that closely approximated our overneeded call for meaningful
resolution, light quest, love, honor and yeses from our creator
by conditions forced into our singular lives within the watchful eyes
of the enemies, the enemies of art, drum making and almond milk.
night before the hunt and kill — they laughed.
the negro officers renewed their nigger cards,
the white officers dipped their bullets in pig oil, and
tore up the constitution, bill of rights and
proclaimed that god is white-white, and we go
before first light with orders from washington,
chicago’s kill squad and fbi’s COINTELPRO.
reporters who really wanted to be poets
confronted their contradictory truths, which ate
their eyes and minds and burned their fingernails off
while they choked on their lying tongues.
& we meet to hear the speeches/ the same, the duplicators.
they say that which is expected of them.
to be instructive or constructive is to be unpopular (like: the
sleep when there is a watching eye)
but they say the right things at the right time, it’s like a
only the entertainers have changed.
we remember bobby hutton. the same, the duplicators.
seeing eye should always see.
the night doesn’t stop the stars
& our enemies scope the ways of blackness in three bad
shifts a day.
in the AM their music becomes deadlier.
this is a game of dirt.
Blackpeople play it fair.
—Haki R. Madhubuti