Dominique Fishback on representing the women of the Black Panther Party
The actor and spoken word artist makes an impact playing writer and activist Akua Njeri in Judas And The Black Messiah
By Radheyan Simonpillai
Feb 9, 2021
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Dominique Fishback stars opposite Daniel Kaluuya in a scene from Judas And The Black Messiah
Director Shaka King has one regret about Judas And The Black Messiah, his new movie about Black Panther Party Deputy Chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and Bill O’Neal, the FBI informant who betrayed him.
“If there is anything we could have done a better job of, it’s having more powerful roles for the women,” King told gathered press at a preview of the first Judas And The Black Messiah trailer last August.
The movie is a tight two-hander starring Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield as O’Neal. It briefly covers the former’s assembly of the Rainbow Coalition, but focuses primarily on the latter’s moral tug-of-war and deceptive work for COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to spy on and disrupt domestic movements.
In a handful of pivotal scenes, Dominique Fishback has the biggest emotional impact in the movie. She plays Deborah Johnson, now known as Akua Njeri. One of the many women who were members of the Black Panther Party, Johnson was also Hampton’s fiancée at the time. She was pregnant with his child, who is also named Fred Hampton Jr., when Hampton was assassinated at age 21 by the FBI. Njeri told Fishback exactly how it went down that traumatic night.
“Mama Akua, she said that she did not cry during the raid,” Fishback tells NOW in an interview ahead of Judas And The Black Messiah’s release on February 12.
“She said they carried his body out and they were cheering and laughing and singing that Chairman Fred is dead, but she did not cry.”
Fishback explains that she didn’t realize the importance of that refusal to show emotion until afterward. Looking back and watching the difficult scene in Judas And The Black Messiah, Fishback frames it as yet another act of strength and leadership that falls on Black women.
“We’re not going to give them the satisfaction, is what I feel when I think about how Mama Akua did not cry,” Fishback adds.
“It reminded me of the Black mothers today [who] are constantly losing their children to police terrorism and police brutality in this country and across the world. They go on platforms. And they’re strong for every single one of us. And they don’t shed a tear. They tell us to be strong.”
And while Fishback obviously wishes there was more room to explore the women of the Black Panther Party in Judas And The Black Messiah, she also appreciates the space King made for her voice.
“I would write him three-page essays on the women’s voices, and he will always find time to read and talk about it,” she says. “I mentioned that there was no poem heard, but the Panthers were very poetic people.”
Fishback is a spoken word artist on top of being a powerhouse actor who already gave knockout performances in The Deuce, Project Power and the music video for Jay-Z’s Smile where she plays Gloria Carter, his mother.
When she brought up the poetry of the Black Panthers, King asked her if she wanted to take a shot at capturing that in Judas And The Black Messiah.
In a key scene, Deborah recites a poem to Hampton, capturing her own struggle between the intimate and the social. Fishback wrote the poem.
“I got to put in my own experience,” she says, “my own intuitive beliefs or imaginings of what it must feel like to be a revolutionary and a mother.”
Watch the entire interview with Dominique Fishback discussing Black women in Judas And The Black Messiah in the video below.
Radheyan's first assignment for NOW was reviewing the Ice Cube heist comedy First Sunday. That was back in January 2008. Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Scarborough, Rad currently lives in Leslieville with his wife and two adorable kids.