British actor Daniel Kaluuya reacts after receiving backlash for playing US activist Fred Hampton in 'Judas and the Black Messiah': 'It's not about me'
"Judas and the Black Messiah." Warner Bros. Pictures
In the upcoming film "Judas and the Black Messiah" the black British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays the chairman of the Black Panther, Fred Hampton.
The casting has been criticized on social media and beyond, as some believe a black American should have got the role.
Kaluuya responded to the backlash during an interview with Variety.
"I am a vessel for a spirit that passes through me," said Kaluuya. "For us as blacks in the diaspora, it is important to be together."
He added, "And that's not to be underestimated how black Americans feel, what they've been through. It's not about me. It's about Chairman Fred Hampton."
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Although Fred Hampton, the legendary chairman of the Black Panther Party, has appeared in countless documentaries and was most recently a character in the Netflix drama "The Trial of the Chicago 7", there was never a biography of him. Until now.
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With the upcoming February release of Judas and the Black Messiah, director Shaka King ("Newlyweeds") did something Antoine Fuqua and Forest Whitaker never could. And that could be why his cast of Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out", "Widows") as Hampton was scrutinized.
The film's summer trailer release received critical criticism on social media as UK-born actor played Hampton from Illinois.
In a variety story about the long journey to film, Kaluuya addressed the negative reaction to his casting.
"I am a vessel for a spirit that passes through me," he began. "For us blacks in the diaspora, it's important to be together. And that doesn't mean black Americans feel what they've been through. It's not about me. It's about Chairman Fred Hampton."
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton. Warner bros.
Not only did Variety capture the passion and intensity that made Hampton a polarizing figure in the 1960s, but also reported that Kaluuya had traveled to Chicago to receive the blessings from Hampton's family to play the role before filming began.
"We had to explain who we were and what our intentions were," he said of the experience.
Kaluuya catching heat to play an American role is not unique. In 2017, Samuel L. Jackson spoke about how the film Get Out, which explores the nuances of racism in America from the perspective of an interracial couple starring Kaluuya, benefited from an American black actor could play the role.
"There are a lot of black British actors working in this country all the time," Jackson said during an interview with New York radio station Hot 97. "I wonder what that film would have been like with an American brother who really." understands that in a way. "
"Because Daniel grew up in a country where they have been interracial for a hundred years. In the UK there are only eight true whites in the UK," he continued. "So what would a brother from America do with this role? I'm sure the director helped. Some things are universal, but everything is not."
Shortly after Jackson's comments, Kaluuya replied to GQ: "I'm angry that I have to prove I'm black."
Other black British actors have also been criticized for starring black American icons in films, including David Oyelowo for the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma" and Cynthia Erivo for casting as Harriet Tubman in her eponymous biopic.
King defended his occupation of Kaluuya in August.
"I am aware of the debate about British actors playing American black cult characters," said the director 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 a symbol of a diasporic mindset."
"Judas and the Black Messiah," starring Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery and Algee Smith, will premiere on February 12th.
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