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Shaka King

Words

Our Uprising Editors

04/16/21


Welcome to Seen On Scene, a new segment of UpRising where our favorite filmmakers and creatives pull back the curtain to let us in on some of their most precious behind-the-scenes moments. We recently chatted with Shaka King, the visionary writer/director of Judas and The Black Messiah. He blessed us with some gems on what it was like to be on the revolutionary set and even clued us into a deleted scene. Without further ado, here's Shaka King.

The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton was a very heavy day on set for all of us. It was coming towards the end of March. Ironically, that was one of the last days of shooting with Daniel – the day we shot his final words and his assassination – dovetailed with the anniversary of Chairman’s death.

I'm not really one for speeches but I remember that morning, all of us gathered up in the kitchen and said a few words. There was a mood…heavy. I immediately noticed Lakeith wasn't there. He says he woke up sick that day. He was in his trailer - throwing up and crying; he just couldn't get over what he would have to do that day. It was all so very real to him. I know we all had hard jobs on that set, but Lakeith had it hardest. He had to transform into this character who was so deeply dark and complicated.

Here's where it gets interesting -- we were shooting the kitchen scene that morning, the one where Chairman Fred dedicated money to the hospital in honor of Jake Winters (played by Algee Smith.) What didn't make it into the film was the scene that directly followed, one where O'Neill showed up at the apartment begging for forgiveness from Chairman, who had recently kicked him out of the Panthers for threatening to blow up federal buildings.

[Lakeith] pulled so much trauma and anxiety out of himself to play the role he did. It was the greatest sacrifice.

What is so interesting to me about O’Neil is that he believes he's both a Panther and an FBI agent once. When O'Neil is in the car with the wire talking to himself, we shot a moment where he repeats the words “I’m out”, all in different emotion. At first he says, “ I'm out” angrily as if he's pretending to care that he's been kicked out of the Panthers. And then slowly he says it in a way where he almost comes off as being a bit sad that this family (the one that has adopted him even though he's been betrayed them) is no longer his. Next he cries “ I'm out!”, relieved that he is finally free. It asks the question though, what is freedom, really?




caption: Shaka King Lakeith Stanfield

The deleted scene worked narratively but the problem was that it made Chairman appear culpable in his own death. By trusting O'Neil and letting him back into the Panthers, it felt like we were rewriting history a bit because, by the way, that never happened. O’Neill was never kicked out of the Panthers. He never cried way back in. He did all of his work without ever being questioned or found out. So that was that, and we cut the scene from the film.

Everybody on the set has a difficult job to some degree but Lakeith... he had the hardest job of them all. It was thankless and I told him that. He pulled so much trauma and anxiety out of himself to play the role he did. We really owe him one. It was the greatest sacrifice.

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