Daniel Kaluuya is only 32 and has fewer than 15 film acting credits under his belt, but a fortuitous whirlwind in the life of the Ugandan-British actor over the last four years means that he has walked into the gallery of easily noticeable on the silver screen.
Add his performance in Get Out to appearing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as W’Kabi in Black Panther, and the critically acclaimed lead role in Queen & Slim, Kaluuya has shown depth and range in front of a camera. And after the 93rd Academy Awards where he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, the former comedic TV actor has begun to write his name in gold, if not something more precious.
On the night that Hollywood rewarded the best in the filmmaking business over the last calendar year, Kaluuya won for portraying the revolution-touting Fred Hampton, an American visionary who foresaw the needfulness of poor people to join collectively to push back against state and capitalist power without letting racial complexities get in the way. Hampton was killed in 1969 as part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO assault on activists the J. Edgar Hoover-led administration believed were set against the American way of life.
Kaluuya earned critical praise for his role. The film, which navigated the moral ambiguities and options of William O’Neal, the FBI mole within the Chicago Black Panther Party, also sought to communicate the humanity of Hampton. Kaluuya has said in interviews that he felt blessed to have taken on the role.
One could argue that the film itself was an attempt to redeem the tarnished image of the Black Panthers. This tarnishing was a destructive project supervised by successive American governments, intelligence and the media apparatus. Casting the Black Panthers, and particularly Hampton as a man whose pro-poor values were inimical to the American experiment was thoroughly beneficial to white American capitalism and its environs.
However, there is still something to be said for Kaluuya’s win, a victory that goes beyond artistic appreciation into cultural reverence for who Hampton was. This is not to get carried away. Kaluuya himself mentioned to the audience that there is “work to do” that is going to take “every single one of you”.
To point out what a Hollywood nod to Fred Hampton could mean for the ongoing defense of Black humanity in American politics is to visualize the potential for growth. Hitherto denigrated, there is a way Hampton could be restored to the nucleic region of current Black political thought and action through Kaluuya’s Oscars win.
The actor himself summarized this better in his acceptance speech:
And to Chairman Fred Hampton. Man, what a man. What a man. How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed. You know what I mean? Thank you [Fred] for your light. He was on this Earth for 21 years. 21 years [and] he found a way to feed kids, educate kids, give free medical care. Against all the odds, he showed me, he taught me…him, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, The Black Panther Party, they showed me how to love myself. And with love, they overflowed into the Black community and other communities. And they showed us that the power of union…the power of unity, that when they play divide and conquer. We “say unite and ascend”.