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Daniel Kaluuya recently took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor thanks to his powerhouse performance in Judas and the Black Messiah. In the biopic, the British actor portrayed the late Black Panther Party activist Fred Hampton who was shot dead by Chicago police in 1969. The Oscar completes the star’s awards season sweep after winning at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, and BAFTA ceremonies. 

Kaluuya paid homage to Hampton while accepting his award, saying, “What a man. How blessed we are that we lived in a lifetime where he existed. Thank you for your life. He was on this earth for 21 years, and he found a way to feed kids breakfast, educate kids, give free medical care against all odds.”

 

Preparing for the Fiery Role

To prepare for the role of the persuasive orator, the 32-year-old actor told Indiewire he immersed himself in Hampton’s Mayhood neighborhood in Chicago, connecting with the chairman’s family members, Fred Hampton, Jr. and his mother Deborah Johnson for about eight hours. Kaluuya additionally read several books about the Black Panthers. Through his research, it became apparent to the Get Out star, “I’m in a play, and everyone else is in a film in terms of the demands on my voice and vocal cords, doing big speeches all day.”

In turn, Kaluuya took on the task of learning Chairman Fred’s southern-inflected Chicago accent. He also sang gospel songs and enrolled in opera classes to get his voice in top shape. “I felt like the attitude of the speeches were James Brown,” Kaluuya assessed. “I’d do the speeches in order to find the cadence, how it felt for me. The speeches were a talking version of singing as opposed to a singing version of talking. It’s a tune, a song.”

Hampton’s girlfriend, Deborah Johnson, now 70 years old, raved of Kaluuya’s performance. “To see Daniel do the speeches and kind of do the walk and the talk and the mannerisms of Chairman Fred, it was really amazing.” Kaluuya appreciated Johnson’s guidance along the way. “It was so incredible to have [ Johnson] be part of the process. I’d always take her words of encouragement before we started shooting, during, and after she saw it. She was around, as she was there.

 

A Transcendent Experience

Watching the film is a bit surreal for Kaluuya. While he performed Hampton’s speeches before a room of over 400 extras along with the film crew, he insists, “I watch it back, and I don’t remember the takes. I don’t remember anything in this film. It really was transcendent.” He attributes the “out-of-body experience” to “Fred speaking through me; he was giving power to the people.”

 

Kaluuya’s Oscar Competitors

At the Academy Awards, Kaluuya was up against Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami), Paul Raci (Sound of Metal), LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah), and Sacha Baron Cohen (The Trial of the Chicago 7). 

Although Kaluuya played one of the two title roles in Judas and the Black Messiah, he won for best supporting actor. LaKeith Stanfield who portrayed William O’Neal in the film, the man who betrayed Hampton to federal investigators, likewise competed in the same category. “I share this honor with the gift that is LaKeith Stanfield,” Kaluuya said.

Kaluuya is the first black British actor to win an Academy Award. He is also the first person born in the 1980s to win an Oscar for best supporting actor.