During awards season, there are multiple opportunities for filmmakers and journalists to engage in cinematic dialogue. Usually, studios will offer talent connected to films who are being pitched for awards’ consideration. During the pandemic, these events (film junkets) have transitioned to a virtual model allowing more journalists from around the world to connect with film artists. On occasion, we will offer some of these interactions between Elements of Madness partners/contributors and the filmmakers in a new form, Q-Bits. Today, Noel T. Manning II talks with Shaka King, director and screenwriter of Judas and the Black Messiah.
Written and directed by Shaka King, Judas and the Black Messiah is based on true events. It follows the story of FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who becomes a member of the Illinois Black Panther Party and befriends its leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). O’Neal’s job is to keep the FBI updated on Hampton’s actions and interactions. The question is: where will O’Neal’s loyalty ultimately lie? Will he continue to inform the Bureau, or will he develop a stronger personal relationship with Hampton and become sympathetic to his cause?
Noel T. Manning II: As you’re serving as both the screenwriter and the director for Judas and the Black Messiah, what would you say was the most difficult scene to bring to life from the page?
Shaka King, director and writer of Judas and the Black Messiah: I would say that the scene that was most difficult was the scene where the Panthers meet the Young Patriots for the first time. It was difficult largely because it was our first day shooting, and we were still getting a sense of one another. It was my first time stepping onto a set in a few months, and it was an ambitious first day. When I look back, I remember leaving after that first day. [I was] like, I know we got it, but I also knew things we did that I didn’t like, and I hoped we wouldn’t have to use those (shots). And we didn’t – fortunately, the stuff that we nailed was enough. But, that was definitely the hardest thing to translate.
Manning: Thank you so much for that. When I think about cinema, there are certain films that have great performances, some have marvelous cinematography, and yet, others – stellar sound design on their own. But, this film is one of those films that, from a layered standpoint, hits all of those marks. I want to ask you this, was there one performance, either in front of the camera or behind the camera, that exceeded your expectations?
King: There’s one, actually. And the thing is, this isn’t taking away from anyone else – it’s just I didn’t even anticipate how good this actress was going to be, and it was Alysia Joy Powell. She plays Ms. Winters in the movie. So, we wrote a lot more on Jake Winters (Algee Smith), and we shot a lot more on Jake Winters, and in the interest of time, we had to cut a lot of stuff out. In doing so, you lost a little bit of insight into his character, and it was problematic for me. The only reason I ultimately got comfortable with it was because you learn so much about him through her (his wife), through the way that she talks about him and eulogizes him in that way. That only works if the actress is so committed to the material that it doesn’t feel like a performance, like [instead] she feels like that person. That’s what Alysia Joy Powell did, so that performance absolutely stands out for me, in terms of I didn’t expect it to be that dynamic.
*Kathryn Manning supplied research and writing assistance to this piece.
Elements of Madness appreciates the opportunity to engage with filmmakers and the films they create through interviews, critical analysis, and topical engagement and open observation.
Judas and the Black Messiah will release in select theaters February 12th, 2021 and will be available on HBO Max for 31 days beginning February 12th, 2021.
For more information, go to the official Judas and the Black Messiah website.
Noel T. Manning is a member of the CCA, SEFCA and the NCFCA and is also the host of the television program and radio show Meet Me at the Movies. He’s the founder of the Real to Reel Film Fest and is an adjunct professor of film studies. When he’s not embracing mainstream, indie, international, documentary or art films, he’s digging into the world of cinema by chatting with principle individuals involved in various aspects of the filmmaking industry.
Categories: Filmmaker Interviews