While the spotlight is on Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Chairman Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah (which hits theaters and HBO Max on Feb. 12 and earned the actor a Golden Globe nomination), it’s awesome to see Young Black Hollywood all over Judas. From Moonlight star Ashton Sanders to Euphoria’s Algee Smith, there’s an array of Black talent that make up this cast.
One member of the squad is Darrell Britt-Gibson, who’s spent the last 15 years playing everyone from O-Dog on The Wire and Rolla on Power, to Shitstain on You’re The Worst and Jermaine on Barry. This time around, Britt-Gibson portrays a young Bobby Rush, co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers who ended up becoming a US congressman. “To walk in those shoes on set every day is a tall task and one that I [do] not take lightly,” Britt-Gibson admits, “I want to make him proud.”
Britt-Gibson recently spoke with Complex about the importance of legacy, what he learned in 2020, the music he’s making with his group, She Taught Love, his upcoming directorial debut, and much more.
This conversation is a part of Complex’s Judas Week, a series of interviews featuring the cast and crew of Warner Bros.’ Judas and the Black Messiah, discussing one of 2021’s most anticipated films.
I feel like I ask this question a lot, but how people spent their 2020 quarantine fascinates me. Talk to me about how you spent 2020.
It was very reflective and it was trying, and it was trying for everybody. Even saying that feels a little icky because there’s people who aren’t here anymore. I’m truly blessed just to be here. But it was a fascinating exploration of oneself. It was also very, very, very productive; the first couple of weeks [of the pandemic], I don’t know if I’m going to make it. And then it was, “No, you got to figure it out. You’re not alone. Everybody’s going through this. What are you going to do about it?”
I wrote two features in 70 days, and I was working on a lot of music. I just was working on music, basically figuring it out and seeing how best I could serve other people. Because as bad as I feel it might be for myself, I always know, and was raised to always understand that there [are] people who are going through way worse situations than you. I tried to give back and be there for as many people as I could be and continue to do so, just because this thing’s not over, and I think people are going to need a lot more help on the other side of it than actually inside of it. And I don’t want that to get lost on people, where people are like, “Yeah, new day, the sun is shining.” It’s like, yeah, but don’t get it twisted. Shit is still fucked up big time.
That’s a good segue into a film like Judas and the Black Messiah; a lot of what you’re speaking on feels like some of the stuff that The Black Panther Party was founded on. How familiar were you with Chairman Fred Hampton and this particular story involving his life and the whole deception with William O’Neal?
I was very familiar with Chairman Fred and the Panther Party, actually, because of my incredible parents. If it was left up to the education system, I wouldn’t know a damn thing about the Party. Thank God for my incredible parents who educated us on stuff that we actually need to know about, which is our history, which they try to wipe clean every chance they [can].
[The Panthers] were such incredible human beings that every day you’re learning something new. They were involved in so much of what we are allowed to do today because of the sacrifices that they made. Everything I thought I knew, it almost felt like I’m learning it and then relearning it, and I’m still learning it, because they just did so much and the Party moved so many things forward. So it was an education. It was going to school every single day to prepare for the role and to be a part of something like this, because it’s not something you can take lightly because you’re playing with people’s lives and you’re playing with legacy. There is nothing more important than legacy because you don’t take the bag with you when you go. You don’t take any of it. You leave the legacy behind. So what does that look like? And Chairman and the Party left such an incredible, incredible legacy behind that we’re still trying to make good on.
You mentioned portraying people who are alive and you’re fortunate to where Bobby Rush is still alive. Did you get to meet him?
I did not have the opportunity to meet Mr. Rush yet, but there are rumblings that I’m going to be able to make that happen very soon, which excites me and frightens me at the same time. To walk in those shoes on set every day is a tall task and one that I [do] not take lightly. But also understanding that I want to make him proud, and he can look me in my eyes and tell me that I didn’t, and he has every right to do so. I led with love and I took it very seriously and gave everything I have to make him proud, because that’s his life and his legacy and I better damn sure take it seriously because I was gifted the opportunity to be able to portray him. It was the ultimate privilege that I was given the opportunity to do so.
Talk a little bit about working on the set and what it was like with people like Dominique [Fishback] or with LaKeith and Daniel.
That’s my family, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I love each and every one of them. They will be at my wedding. They will be watching my children. Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, those are my sisters and I will protect them with my life. Daniel, LaKeith, Algee, Ian, Caleb, Ashton, those are my brothers and I will protect them with my life. And I know that they all do the same for me.
It was one of the most soul-enriching experiences of my life, not just because of what we were tasked with from a performance standpoint, but because it was one of those things that we needed each other. We needed to lean on each other because there were certain days where it was just heavier for whoever it could be on that particular day. But knowing that we had my sisters and my brothers to lean on it was something that I will cherish for the rest of my entire life.
I didn’t realize that you were working on music with your band, She Taught Love.
It’s exciting, man, because it’s the purest form of expression that I feel that I have as an artist. It’s the most exciting and it’s the most vulnerable which, to me, makes it the most beautiful. It’s me and my guy, Adam. We’ve been playing around with music together for a while now, but we were just like, “Man, we just need to make this a real thing.” It’s exciting. The response has been so incredible and we’re just so excited to bring it to the world.
I think so much of the art that we’re force-fed these days is this manipulation of the feeling. I want you to feel something, right? So I’m going to cue this to make you cry here or say this to make you do this. I think that my favorite kind of music, like Otis Redding and Donny Hathaway, was just like, “You’re going to feel what you feel, and I’m not going to force that feeling on you, but I promise you, you will feel something.” That’s the kind of music that we’re making, and I can’t wait for the world to hear it.
It’s funny because you’re working toward this, but I also just watched the Silk Road trailer. You’re also going to be in the Fear Street series on Netflix. I’m wondering, you mentioned the response going so well. When we get on the other side of the pandemic, is it a situation where you could see yourself dividing your time between your acting career and your music career?
I 1,000 percent could see me splitting my time, but [it’s] also about where my heart is at the moment, because everything that I do I really want to love it, and I want to feel something from it. I never want to force myself to do something because there’s a check on the other side of it, or there’s somebody telling me, “Well, this is a good thing to do because of this.”
What’s your 2021 looking like, work-wise? Will you be on set this year?
[Some] projects that I was supposed to be a part of [last year] got pushed to this year. [Outside of those projects], I think a lot about this year is focused on a film I wrote called Mali and Frank. It’s a love story that just so happens to have two Black leads. I think that that’s what we need now. We have run into the wall in some instances where there are people who say that they love it, but then they ask me, executives will say, “How do you feel about making the lead a white girl?” And I say, “Well, that’s not the movie that I wrote and that’s not the movie I’m trying to make. So thank you, but no thank you.” So fighting for that, the advocacy of seeing us in all of our beauty. You don’t get to only love us for our trauma. You need to love us for our everything, because we are the most beautiful, the strongest, the most resilient people on planet Earth. I know you love us for all of our trauma and you get off on that, but you’re going to love us for our everything, because we are everything. We encompass everything and the culture does not move without us. There’s nothing that is moving without us. So you will have to love all of us.
Will you also star in Mali and Frank?
Yes, I’m going to be playing Frank. And it was important that I wanted to write the film to say Mali and Frank, because I have a lot of people who say, “Oh, man, we really love Frank and Mali.” I try to tell them, “No, you’re not going to keep putting Black women after us.” It was important that I put a Black woman in front, because Black women are the strongest people on planet Earth and Hollywood has an obsession with writing weak women and I don’t know weak women. This white knight who comes in on the horse and saves this woman, I don’t know that. I have been saved by a woman. My life had been saved by a woman. I come from a superhero. And so I have no interest in writing weak women, which is something that Hollywood has an obsession of. I want to be able to change that narrative. When somebody says, “Man, we’re excited about Frank and Mali,” I have to correct them and say, “No, it's Mali and Frank. She is the lead of the film and I am following her.”