Judas and the Black Messiah may be a current Oscar contender in 2021, but the story was originally conceived by brothers Kenny and Keith Lucas back in 2014 when they first pitched the idea of a Fred Hampton biopic to A24 and Netflix as "The Conformist meets The Departed." When that didn't happen, they pitched it again in 2016 to director Shaka King when they were working with him on a television pilot. Shaka was intrigued and would go on to write the script alongside Will Berson who just happened to have written his own Hampton screenplay about the same time. That separate project was already in early stages of production, with F. Gary Gray in talks to direct, Casey Affleck and John Powers Middleton in negotiations to produce, and Jaden Smith and O'Shea Jackson Jr. being eyed to portray Hampton.
However, when that version fell through, Berson and King rewrote Berson's script with help from the Lucas brothers. From there, the Lucas brothers got in touch with Macro's Charles King, who agreed to finance half of the project. King recalls the situation of how this helped leverage the film's worth when looking for further funding:
"By going to market with a great script, two amazing actors and Shaka, a visionary filmmaker, and the clout that Ryan Coogler brought, plus Macro bringing half of the financing to the table with a great production plan. That put us in a position to be partners, so this movie is not purely driven by the studio. That also helped us support Shaka's vision and how he cast the movie and to keep it as authentic as possible."
The film is now currently proceeding to the Oscars with six nominations, including Best Picture and those two actors King refers to, Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya, both nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It was a long road worth taking, it seems. Stay tuned!