Daniel Kaluuya No Longer Getting “Out”; But Does That Make COINTELPRO In?
This is an important chance to take advantage of the popular culture to talk about America’s naked attempt to destroy Black movements
by Nkechi Taifa
First he was the Black man who had to overcome the sexual kryptonite of the white woman in “Get Out.” Then he became T’Challa’s frienemy, W’Kabi, in Marvel’s “Black Panther.” And now his topnotch portrayal of Fred Hampton, the Chicago Black Panther Party leader slain in bed, has led Daniel Kaluuya to the Oscars for a second time. It’s a significant year for race-watchers who are also film-watchers — Is it poetic irony, though, that the hero Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield (who played the villain in Judas and the Black Messiah) have to compete for the Best Supporting Actor category, as they unwittedly sparred with each other on the big screen?
But we must keep uppermost in our minds the real devil of “Judas”: the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO), whose key target — the Black Panther Party — should be the entity getting most of the Oscars’ socio-cultural ink and attention.
I am glad that critical issues from the COINTELPRO era, as depicted and highlighted in the film, have publicly resurrected the issue of governmental misconduct against Black movements of the past — one of the more egregious, in addition to infiltrations, anonymous forged letters, and imprisonments — being “to stop the long-term growth of militant Black nationalist groups, especially among the youth.”
I remember the 1973 classic “The Spook Who Sat By The Door,” another story about organizing gangs in Chicago for revolution. And guess what?! That insurrectionist, fictionalized masterpiece, snuck in by Black artists during the “blaxploitation” movie era of my coming of age, is more scary to the powers-that-be in America than the purposely sympathetic based-on-a-true-story of an informant. So maybe the Black film experience is more circular than we would wish, and the arrow not exactly pointed forward.
Kaluuya, who plays Fred Hampton with great sensitivity, definitely got an education from Fred Hampton Jr. — the son of Hampton, still in his mother’s belly almost 52 years ago when Chicago police and FBI conspired to murder his father — when the activist and the artists met:
But as Oscar time approaches, I wonder if we are not seeing history repeat itself. Not in terms of the awards, but in terms of the faddish consciousness.
We must use this opportunity created by popular culture to talk about and expose America’s naked attempt to destroy Black movements, past and present. COINTELPRO’s vicious and illegal campaigns using taxpayers’ money to disrupt and destroy legitimate organizing must not be forgotten. Our youth today understand racism. What is necessary now is how careful they must be as they continue to organize and take to the streets to protest and effectuate change.
As youth idolize the movie stars of the day whose characters communicate messages from yesterday, they must connect the dots between the movements and mistakes of the past, in order to move forth powerfully into the future.
Win or lose, Kaluuya will definitely have his moment in the spotlight, and then will move on to the next role. Hampton Jr. will continue his quest to turn his father’s childhood home into a center. And Black resisters will continue to be monitored, surveilled and subjected to unwarranted police harassment through COINTELPRO-successor, over-reaching government programs. So we shouldn’t wait for the next Hollywood production to talk to the current generation about these more dangerous parts of U.S. history.
Attorney Nkechi Taifa is the author of Black Power, Black Lawyer: My Audacious Quest for Justice.