Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Lil Rel Howery, Martin Sheen
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Bio-drama directed and co-written by Shaka King. Inspired by the true story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield).
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Interviewer: [1989, Bill is being interviewed for a documentary] Looking back on your activities in the late ’60s, early ’70s, what would you tell your son about what you did then?
J. Edgar Hoover: The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. More than the Chinese. Even more than the Russians. Our counter-intelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black Messiah from among their midst. One with a potential to unite the Communist, the anti-war, and the New Left movements.
Fred Hampton: We don’t fight fire with fire. We fight fire with water.
Roy Mitchell: Special Agent Mitchell, FBI. Almost as spiffy as yours. Now, tell me, why the badge? Why not just use a knife, or a gun like a normal car thief? Bill O’Neal: A badge is scarier than a gun. Roy Mitchell: Would you mind explaining that for me? Bill O’Neal: Any n**** on the streets can get a gun, sir. A badge is like you got the whole damn army behind you. Roy Mitchell: I better hold on to this then.
Roy Mitchell: [to Bill] You’re looking at eighteen months for the stolen car, and five years for impersonating a federal officer. Or you can go home.
Fred Hampton: There’s a man called a capitalist. Don’t matter what color he is, black, white, brown, red, don’t matter. Because the capitalist has one goal. And that is to exploit the people. He can have on a three-piece suit, or a dashiki, because political power doesn’t flow from the sleeve of a dashiki. Political power flows from the barrel of a gun. We in the Black Panther Party don’t believe in no culture except revolutionary culture. What we mean by that is a culture that will free you!
Deborah Johnson: Do you like poetry? Fred Hampton: I mean, it’s cool, but as Che Guevara said, “Words are beautiful, but action is supreme,” you dig? Deborah Johnson: I dig. Right on. But you were up on that stage using words. So maybe next time, choose them a bit more carefully, instead of tearing down the folk who you call yourself recruiting, just because they demonstrate a little Black pride. But just so you know, you are a poet.
Fred Hampton: But we in the party ascribe to Chairman Mao’s definition of politics. He said, “War is politics with bloodshed, and politics is war without bloodshed.”
Fred Hampton: There’s strength in numbers. Power anywhere there’s people.
Fred Hampton: Information is raw material for new ideas.
Fred Hampton: Because we’ve grown so accustomed to being poor, we think it’s normal for our kids to go to school hungry. We think it’s normal for us to go to the hospital with a runny nose, and come home in a body bag. So our job as the Black Panther Party is to heighten the contradictions.
Fred Hampton: The poet. What a pleasant surprise. Deborah Johnson: I saw your ad in the paper looking for a new speechwriter. I figured I’d better come lend a hand. Fred Hampton: Well, that must have been a misprint. See, I don’t write speeches, sister. I just get up on stage and speak truth to the people. Deborah Johnson: Oh, it shows. The lack of preparation, that is. Fred Hampton: It got you here.
Bill O’Neal: You ain’t tell me it was going to be like this. These m*therf***ers ain’t no terrorists. S**t, they terrorizing me. Roy Mitchell: What can I do to help? The goal is to get close to Hampton. So, think. What does he need that maybe your Uncle Sam might be able to help you provide? Bill O’Neal: A car.
Fred Hampton: The Black Panther Party believes in progression. Now, what that mean? That mean, first, you have free breakfast. Then you have free healthcare. Then you have free education. Next thing you know, you look up, you done freed your m*therf***ing self!
Interviewer: What made you think you could trust Roy Mitchell? Bill O’Neal: I’d rode around in his car. I had dinner with him at his dinner table. You know, he was, at one point, for me, he was like a role model. When I didn’t have one, you know? We had very few role models back then. We had Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. I had an FBI agent.
Roy Mitchell: Their aim is to sow hatred and inspire terror. Plain and simple. Now, I’m all for civil rights, but you can’t cheat your way to equality. And you certainly can’t shoot your way to it.
Bill O’Neal: Say, I get you like some good information. Something nobody else knows. Is there some kind of bonus or something? Roy Mitchell: Well, I’m counting on it, Bill. But, to answer your question. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
Fred Hampton: Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton of the Illinois Black Panther Party.
Steel: The pigs don’t write, blood. Fred Hampton: The Feds do. They pulled the same s**t on Martin and Malcolm. Steel: And what happened to them? Fred Hampton: Same s**t that’s going to happen to all of us. At least they died for the people. We should be so lucky.
Deborah Johnson: [referring to Malcolm X] I listen to him every morning. I feel like he never lets folks put words in his mouth. And no matter what, he doesn’t get flustered or angry. I’d like to be like that someday.
Fred Hampton: What? Deborah Johnson: I did not expect you to be shy. Fred Hampton: Oh, I’m not shy.
Fesperman: Look, we oppressed your people for a long time. James: I didn’t oppress s**t. And my folks grew up poor. They were sharecroppers. Jimmy Palmer: AKA the overseer. Fred Hampton: What if the overseer had banded with the slaves and cut the master’s throat? What then, comrade? We might not be in this funky-a** ghetto right now. I’m not talking about the West Side, or the South Side. I’m talking this filthy-a** m*therf***er right here. S**t. We almost got into it with a rat over a parking space.
Fred Hampton: Let me ask y’all something. If this building caught fire right now, what would y’all worry about? Water and escape. If somebody were to ask you, “What’s your culture during this fire, brother?” “Water, that’s my culture.” “Well, how about your politics?” “Water and escape.” Well, guess what, America is on fire right now. And until that fire is extinguished, don’t nothing else mean a goddamn thing.
Bill O’Neal: [referring to Fred] He could sell salt to a slug.
Fred Hampton: The Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and the Young Patriots, are forming a Rainbow Coalition of oppressed brothers and sisters of every color!
J. Edgar Hoover: [referring to Fred] I want him off the street. Charge him with something! Anything.
Interviewer: What was he arrested for? Bill O’Neal: Ice cream. Yeah, he was accused of taking seventy something dollars worth of ice cream. And I think he got two to five for that, if I’m not mistaken. Interviewer: And how did Fred going to prison affect the party? Bill O’Neal: How didn’t it?
Man: Hey, we got a rat, man. Bill O’Neal: What? Man: They smoked one out.
George Sams: I said the brother got some discipline in the area of the nose and the mouth. And then, the brother started to show some cowardly tendencies. So, boiled some water, gave him a little more discipline. We held a trial first. Bill O’Neal: Well, s**t, where he at now? George Sams: He’s at the bottom of the river with the rest of the trash.
Bill O’Neal: Look, now, y’all going to have to come up off some serious f***ing dough for this, alright? Roy Mitchell: I will make sure you’re properly compensated.
Bill O’Neal: There’s a goddamn rat in here, Bobby! And when I find him, I’m going to smoke him out. You m*therf***ers hear me? I’m going to smoke him out!
Fred Hampton: Dear Comrade Deborah, I dreamt of you the other night, and for a second, I thought I was home. Pardon the delay in writing you. It was not by choice. The pigs do everything in their power to keep us isolated. Because they know, the day we get organized, it’s over for their a**es. Not having books, I find myself playing old speeches in my head, and I keep coming back to this line from Dr. King. “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair,” because make no mistake, comrade, this is the f***ing valley. But where some see despair, I see ground zero for the revolution.
Fred Hampton: [in his letter to Deborah] I have so many questions about how you doing, about how the party’s doing. But ain’t no way you’re getting a kite to me in this hellhole. God forbid, one of the party members gets sent over, they could let me know how y’all are faring. But I’d rather be left in the dark. The last thing I want is you all up in here with me, or worse.
Bill O’Neal: I was almost killed, man! Now, Fred’s in jail. I did the damn job, and I’m out! Roy Mitchell: No, that’s not how it works. Bill O’Neal: What the f*** do you mean, “That’s not how it works?” Why don’t you give me one good reason why I don’t just book it out of here right now? Roy Mitchell: Because, as I’ve mentioned, it’s a year and a half for the stolen car, and five years for impersonating a federal officer. And if you run, I will hunt you down.
[after their office has been destroyed by the police] Bobby Rush: What do we need? Bill O’Neal: We need a goddamn white flag, Bobby!
Young Boy: Y’all need help? Bobby Rush: Yeah, little brother. Go on down to the store and get us a couple of trash cans. [to Bill] Bobby Rush: That’s how you rebuild, comrade.
J. Edgar Hoover: Hampton is getting out, while the State Supreme Court considers his appeal. In the interim, your CI is our best chance at neutralizing him, Agent Mitchell. Maybe it’s time to use O’Neal more creatively.
Fred Hampton: Anywhere there’s people, there’s power.
Fred Hampton: I need everybody to repeat after me! I am a revolutionary! Crowd: I am a revolutionary! Fred Hampton: I am a revolutionary! Crowd: I am a revolutionary!
Fred Hampton: If you dare to struggle, you dare to win! If you dare not struggle, then, goddamn it, you don’t deserve to win!
Fred Hampton: I believe I’m going to die doing what I was born for! I believe I’m going to die high off the people! I’m going to die for the people, because I live for the people! I live for the people, because I love the people!
Fred Hampton: You can murder a liberator, but you can’t murder liberation. You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution. And you can murder a freedom fighter, but you can’t murder freedom!
Fred Hampton: You think you going to be a bad mother? Deborah Johnson: It was a question. Fred Hampton: Why you got to ask yourself that? Deborah Johnson: I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I’m bringing a child into a war zone. These aren’t considerations you have to make. You get to go out there, talk about dying a revolutionary death, and how your body belong to the revolution, because you don’t have another person growing inside your body.
Fred Hampton: So you regret it? Deborah Johnson: What? Fred Hampton: Having my baby. Do you?
Fred Hampton: When I dedicated my life to the people, I dedicated my life. You dig? And it wasn’t till Menard when I realized what that meant. Because in order to survive in there, a part of me had to die, man. You couldn’t have told me that, when I got out, that I’d had every reason to live.
Deborah Johnson: I want to share something with you. “Like the masses, I was in awe, when I first laid eyes on all the things you are. I heard that speech, and when that indent pierced your cheek, I knew we’d make noise. I just, I thought it’d be in the streets. What magic a philistine and a poet could create.” Fred Hampton: A philistine? Who you calling a philistine? Deborah Johnson: You’re seriously interrupting me right now?
Deborah Johnson: [continues reading her poem] “What magic a philistine and a poet could create. However contradictory, it would seem that it’s fate. We educate. We nurture. We feed, and we lobby. Perhaps we’re here for more than just war with these bodies.”
Deborah Johnson: [continues reading her poem] “Will my comrades think me treasonous? Can it please have your dimples? Will my chairman look at me differently? Will its eyes have your twinkle? Will our child be the apple of his eye? Or constantly get the compromise? The rata-tat-tat of gunfire, the clink of jail cells, lullabies. We scream, and we shout, and we live by this anthem. But is power to the people really worth that ransom? Because that’s what a mother does. She gives the world the most precious things that she loves. And I love you, and I love our baby too, and there’s nothing more radical than seeing that through. Born pure to the blood, with the heart of a Panther. So no regrets. I know my answer.”
Mrs. Winters: How’s Deborah? Fred Hampton: Tired of being pregnant. Mrs. Winters: Yeah. Tell her to cherish it. All of it.
Bill O’Neal: [referring to Fred going back to prison] You got him, man. You know, you won. What more do you want? Are you going to kill him, Roy? Huh? Roy Mitchell: I saw you, you know. Bill O’Neal: What? Roy Mitchell: That day at the speech. I watched you. I remember thinking to myself, “Either this guy deserves an Academy Award, or he really believes this s**t.”
Bill O’Neal: [referring to Fred] I’m not going to poison him, you hear me? You f***ing hear me? Wayne: Come on, man, you watch too many movies. Look, all it’s going to do is just make him sleepy. You want him to go easy, right?
Fred Hampton: Is the party about me, or is it about the people? Hmm? It’s a five year bid. You know how many people we could save in five years? With a medical clinic in the middle of the West Side? As far as I’m concerned, that’s an easy decision. Doc. You run it. Name it after Jake. So when people hear the name Jake Winters, they think about healing. And loving. Like he loved us. And when I get out, me and Deb can have our second. And third, and fourth. Deborah Johnson: Okay. Easy now. Fred Hampton: I was going to cap it at five, baby. Five’s a good number, right? Deborah Johnson: How about we see how you do with the one?
Bill O’Neal: [after Fred’s been killed] Why did you call me here, man? What do you want? Roy Mitchell: [puts an envelope on the table] Take it. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. But I think you’ll be glad you did. They’re for a gas station in Maywood. It’s yours. There’s a lot of money in gas. Consistent money. Legal money. You own your own business now, Bill. You’re free.
Roy Mitchell: So where are things with the party? Any news? Bill O’Neal: Fred’s dead, man. I ain’t no goddamn Panther no more. Roy Mitchell: You sure about that?
Interviewer: What would you tell your son about what you did then? Bill O’Neal: [from real footage] I think I’ll let your documentary put a cap on that story. I don’t know. I don’t know what I’d tell him, other than I was part of the struggle. That’s the bottom line. I wasn’t one of those armchair revolutionaries. One of those people that want to sit back now and judge the actions, or inactions of people when they sit back on the sideline and did nothing. At least I had a point of view. I was dedicated. And then I had the courage to get out there and put it on the line, and I did. I think I’ll let history speak for me. [we are then told that Bill committed suicide the same day his interview aired]
Fred Hampton: [from real footage] We always say at the Black Panther Party, that they can do what they want to, to us, we might not be back. I might be in jail, I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you can remember I said, with the last words out of my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You are going to have to say that I am a proletariat. I am the people.
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