“I’ve always looked up to them,” says Dominique Fishback about the Black Panther Party, which made it especially meaningful for her to co-star in “Judas and the Black Messiah” as Deborah Johnson, who was in love with Panther Chairman Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), and was there with him and pregnant with his son when he was assassinated by the FBI in 1969. Watch our exclusive video interview with Fishback above.
Because of her admiration for the Party, Fishback “didn’t want to do anything that would cause any more harm to the legacy. Oftentimes the Black Panther Party has been vilified throughout history.” Understandably, Hampton’s surviving family was protective of his legacy as well. “We went to Chicago, and we sat with the family for about seven hours around a table and Chairman Fred Jr. went around and said, ‘I want to know why every single one of you want to do this movie.'”
The actress didn’t take that responsibility lightly. Because Johnson — now known as Akua Njeri — was a poet, Fishback wanted that to be reflected in the film, which she suggested to writer-director Shaka King and he agreed with. “The poem that she shares with Fred in the movie is a poem that I got to write,” she explains. “I journaled as her every day. I made poems about the first time they met, the first time they kissed, every single aspect of the life that we don’t get to see on camera. I wanted to really inundate myself.” After seeing the film, Njeri told Fishback that “seeing Daniel and I made her miss that love, so that was very touching for me because we really wanted to do the family justice.”
But more than 50 years after Hampton’s execution, justice is still hard to come by in America, which Fishback understands firsthand. “Eric Garner [who was killed by police in Staten Island in 2014] was part of my family. Erica Garner was my cousin, and she became an activist after the murder of her father, and she died at 27 of a heart attack, so it’s not new to me. It’s not new to so many other Black people.”
However, the worldwide outrage and protest movements following the 2020 killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd by police “reminded me of what Chairman Fred was trying to do with the Rainbow Coalition: at 21-years-old he had a vision that if all people under the same oppressive government came together we could make a difference … Maybe people are just open now, open and ready to hear truths that were buried for so long.”
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