‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Enters Oscar Race with Sundance 2021 World Premiere

Anne Thompson
·4 min read

Warner Bros. is not in the habit of booking movies at Sundance, but the studio is adding director Shaka King and producer Ryan Coogler’s “Judas and the Black Messiah” as a late entry at the Sundance Film Festival, which launches January 28. This serves as a marketing launch for the biopic, which will open day and date in theaters and HBO Max on February 12, well before the February 28 Oscar eligibility cut-off. The studio had originally scheduled the film to open on August 21, 2020, but due to the pandemic, pushed back the film to 2021.

Studio marketers saw an opportunity to draw some attention to “Judas and the Black Messiah” at this year’s hybrid festival which, due to its late January start-date and the Oscars’ two-month pandemic delay, offers a showcase ahead of the nominating period that begins on March 5. “Judas and the Black Messiah” will premiere on Monday, February 1 at 6PM Mountain Time on the digital platform, and will also play at a variety of “Satellite Screens,” listed below.

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Moving into the new year, the historic drama joins the Oscar fray. King (a Sundance alum who debuted his “Newlyweeds” at the 2013 festival) tells the true story of Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who was only 21 when the FBI shot and killed the charismatic activist, aided by informer William O’Neal (lead actor LaKeith Stanfield), who infiltrated the Black Panthers. (Fifty years after his death, Hampton is also a supporting character, played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr., in Aaron Sorkin’s 1968 Netflix awards drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”)

“Judas and the Black Messiah” boasts a stellar ensemble of mainly young Black actors led by Kaluuya and Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You”); they include Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”), Algee Smith (“Detroit”), Dominique Fishback (“The Deuce”), Jesse Plemons (“Fargo”), and Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”).

British actor Kaluuya broke out in Jordan Peele’s smart horror smash “Get Out,” landing a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and he could be a repeat contender this year for Supporting Actor, although the category is crowded with ensembles, from “Chicago 7” and “One Night in Miami” to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Sundance also announced a second world premiere for its lineup in the World Documentary Competition, Ali El Arabi’s “Captains of Zaatari,” about two friends trapped in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan who dream of becoming professional football players. When a renowned sports academy scout visits the camp, both have a chance to land their dreams. “Captains of Zaatari” will premiere on Sunday, January 31 at 6PM Mountain Time on the Festival’s digital platform.

“We are delighted to welcome these powerful works into our program,” said Festival Director Tabitha Jackson in an official statement, “In a year where our Festival already exemplifies the vanguard of bold, visionary storytelling from around the world, they help further expand our boundaries.”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” will also debut on the following drive-in screens:

The Plaza Theater (presented by the Atlanta Film Society), 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA, 30306

Dad’s Garage Drive-In (presented by Atlanta Film Society) 569 Ezzard St SE , Atlanta, GA, 30312

Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms (presented by Austin Film Society) 10621 Pioneer Farms Drive, Austin, TX, 78754

Sidewalk Drive-In, 1801 1st Ave. N. , Birmingham, AL, 35203

Sidewalk FIlm Center and Cinema, 1821 2nd Ave N, Birmingham, AL, 35203

Spotlight Cinemas Capital 8 (presented buy the Luminal Theater), 201 Columbia Mall Blvd, Suite 211, Columbia, SC, 29223

The Texas Theatre (presented by Aviation Cinemas), 231 W. Jefferson Blvd., Dallas, TX, 75208

Moonstruck Drive-In (presented by Houston Cinema Arts Society), 100 Bringhurst St, Houston, TX, 77020

Filmscene at the Chauncey, 404 E. College St, #100, Iowa City, IA, 52240

The Speed Art Museum, 2035 S. 3rd Street, Louisville, KY, 40208

Malco Summer Drive-In (presented by Indie Memphis), 5310 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN, 38122

Riverview Theater (presented by Filmnorth), 3800 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN, 55406

Belcourt Drive-In, 2102 Belcourt Ave, Nashville, TN, 37212

The Loft Open Air Cinema, 3233 East Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ, 85716

Admiral Twin Drive-In (presented by Circle Cinema), 7355 E Easton St, Tulsa, OK, 74115

Circle Cinema, 10 S Lewis Ave, Tulsa, OK, 74104

Starlite Drive-In (presented by Mama.film), 3900 S Hydraulic Ave, Wichita, KS, 67216

In total, the Sundance program includes 73 feature-length films, representing 30 countries and 39 first-time feature filmmakers. Fourteen films and projects were supported by Sundance Institute in development, through direct granting or residency Labs. Sixty-eight of the Festival’s feature films, or 93 percent of the lineup, are world premieres, selected from 14,092 submissions including 3,500 feature-length films. Of the feature film submissions, 1,377 were from the U.S. and 2,132 were international.

Across 141 films and projects 69 were directed by one or more women, six were directed by one or more non-binary individuals; 50 percent, or 71, were directed by one or more artists of color; 15 percent or 21 by one or more people who identify as LGBTQ+.

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