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‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ | Anatomy of a Scene

My name is Shaka King. I’m the co-writer, director, and one of the producers on Judas and the Black Messiah. This scene happens pretty early in the movie. William O’Neal, played by Lakeith Stanfield, has just used a fake FBI badge to steal a car and get arrested for that. And here, he meets FBI agent Roy Mitchell, played by Jesse Plemons. So the first shot that we saw earlier was of O’Neal’s feet and blood seemingly falling from where you don’t know. It could be from his face. It could be from his hands. And it’s a time jump. You haven’t seen the assault that occurred on O’Neal. And with us, we were trying to, as early as possible, just establish that this is a film that is not going to give you a lot of exposition. it’s not going to kind of hold your hand through this experience. We want you as a viewer to fill in the blanks with your imagination as much as possible. Because ideally, we believe that it puts you in the perspective of the person in the movie. This scene is one of the most important scenes in the movie, because it highlights a key factor that we’re trying to get across to audiences, which is, in a lot of ways, this scene is about the danger of being apolitical. We really wanted to hit home the old phrase, if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything. “Were you upset when Dr. King was murdered?” “What?” “Were you upset when Dr. King was murdered?” “ I don’t know.” We see William O’Neal questioned by Roy Mitchell about how he felt after Martin Luther King’s assassination. O’Neal admits that it bothered him somewhat. And then, when Mitchell asked him how he felt about Malcolm X’s assassination, and O’Neal says, I never really thought about it. And you see Roy Mitchell, in response to that question, smile a little bit, because he’s found the person that he thinks is a perfect informant. In terms of how we employed the close-ups, I knew we wanted to save our most extreme close-ups for O’Neal’s look up at the end. That is a pleading look of, like, get me out of here. I’ll do anything to get out of here.

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