February 21, 2023

Backstage at the Egyptian: Gaylen Rivers of the NIU Center for Black Studies talks ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

JOSH: What should the general public know about the movie Judas and the Black Messiah?

GAYLEN: According to IMDB, ” Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton. Fred Hampton, a young, charismatic activist, becomes Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party – putting him directly in the crosshairs of the government, the FBI, and the Chicago Police. But to destroy the revolution, the authorities are going to need a man on the inside.” . This film is a dramatization of true events that took place involving the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.
J: Why are stories such as Fred Hampton’s essential for the public to learn about?
G: Stories such as Fred Hampton’s are essential for the public to learn about because they show us how powerful we actually are. Especially in our communities. I grew up in Maywood, IL and my family has lived there for generations.  That is also where Fred Hampton grew up as well. I grew up hearing stories of his activism and it was inspirational to me. Our stories are important, our stories are black history.  In the words of Michelle Obama, “History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own.”.  If you don’t know where you came from you do not know where you are going. At a time when stories like his are painted to be controversial and are not being told, it is more important than ever for the public to learn about them .
J: Since there will be a post-film panel discussion, what types of conversations do you hope that the film will bring up?
G: I hope that this film starts conversation on the importance of organizations like the Black Panther Party, along with the importance of activism, student and young adult activism in particular.  The Center for Black Studies owes its founding to student activism. I also hope community is discussed along with resistance and what all of this means for and in today’s world.
J: Why is Judas and the Black Messiah important to you?
G: Growing up I knew about Fred Hampton. Conversations with my Dad, Grandad, great aunts and uncles, and cousins made sure of that. The aquatic center in my hometown is named after him. But, for a lot of people this film was their first time. This film is important because it brought Fred Hampton’s story and also that of the Black Panther’s to life in a way that allowed people to question what they have been taught or heard. It invited people to learn and research for themselves. For me personally, it reminded me of something that I take for granted. Which is the effect that someone from I’m from can have on this world.
J: What kinds of insight do you hope viewers of this movie will gain?
G: I hope viewers gain insight into what they can do for and in their own communities.

J: NIU partners with the Egyptian theatre numerous times throughout the year. Why is it important to provide opportunities for students in the community to come together to watch films like this?
G: It is important to have opportunities like this for students so that they can learn and explore film and its importance in our lives. Without partnerships like this one, many students would not have the opportunity to watch films like this or participate in discussions surrounding those topics. It also invites them to visit the Egyptian Theatre. For some students this is there first time visiting, but afterward they all say that they will be back. It also allows them to immerse themselves in Downtown Dekalb.