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While in Cleveland, 'Judas And The Black Messiah' Visited Boys & Girls Club

"Judas and The Black Messiah," shot in Northeast Ohio in 2019, hits theaters and HBO Max today.

The city of Cleveland stands in for Chicago in this biopic about the late Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.

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Set in the late '60s, "Judas and the Black Messiah" stars Daniel Kaluuya, of "Get Out" and "Black Panther" fame, as 20-year-old Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Shot in neighborhoods like Glenville and Slavic Village, the film hired hundreds of locals as extras and so-called "day players."

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Actor Daniel Kaluuya and director Shaka King on set of "Judas and the Black Messiah" [Glen Wilson / Warner Bros. Pictures]

Local actor and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones spent a day on set with Kaluuya and director Shaka King filming in the Glenville area.

"Those of us who are from Cleveland, those of us familiar with the Glenville area, and I was born and raised in the Glenville area, will be familiar with a number of the venues, a number of the locations you will see in the film," Jones said.

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Peter Lawson Jones [Popio Stumpf]

Jones was a teenager in 1969, and at that he time was unaware of Hampton's story.

"I had no idea until I read the script that he was as young as he was. He had risen to such a high level of popularity and such a high level of influence and leadership both in the Midwest and in the Black Panther Party as he did," he said.

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Daniel Kaluuya (center) as Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah" [Warner Bros. Pictures]

While filming in Slavic Village, near Broadway Avenue and East 55th Street, the cast often passed by the local Boys & Girls Club, where Joseph Greathouse serves as club director.

"Daniel Kaluuya's manager reached out wanting to see if he could give back and speak to some of our kids... We had roughly 80 kids here that day," Greathouse said.

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Daniel Kaluuya plays foosball with members of the Boys & Girls Club in Cleveland's Slavic Village [Broadway Boys & Girls Club]

The cast spent a Saturday with the kids shooting hoops, playing foosball and participating in a Q&A.  

"Being able to see faces that look like them, celebrities that are in lights that sometimes we think they're untouchable, to see them up close and personal was an amazing thing for the kids. We still talk about it to this day," Greathouse said.

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Shooting hoops at the Boys & Girls Club in Cleveland's Slavic Village [Broadway Boys & Girls Club]

Along with the stars of "Judas and The Black Messiah," costume designer Charlese Antoinette also participated.

"She got inspired after that day that she spent with us, and then she raised money for the sewing machines," Greathouse said, adding that the crew donated the leftover fabric used on set. 

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Costume designer Charlese Antoinette (center) with members of the Boys & Girls Club in Slavic Village [Charlese Antoinette]

With the donated sewing machines and fabric, the Boys & Girls Club then created a Friday costume class for the kids, "DesignYOU."

"So just them being able to come here was enough in a lot of the kids' eyes. But them being able to interact with them? Charlese Antoinette taking that a step further and being continously involved. It's a long lasting impact that they made," Greathouse said.

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The Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland saluting with the cast and crew of "Judas and the Black Messiah" [Broadway Boys and Girls Club]

While Peter Lawson Jones is unsure if his scene made the final cut, he said the film is a history lesson on what the Black Panther Party meant to its community.

"One of the misunderstood things about the Black Panthers is that they had many programs that served the community from providing meals, clothing, a health clinic to serve the needs of these low-income communities," Jones said.

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Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in "Judas and the Black Messiah" [Warner Bros. Pictures]

With the majority of the film's cast and crew featuring Black talent, Jones said he hopes it's also an education for Hollywood.

"When I was growing up, anytime someone Black appeared on TV, you'd yell upstairs to the rest of the family to hurry up and come down (laughing) and see that show or see that commercial. Now I would be absolutely hoarse if I was doing that these days, because the presence of African Americans in all the media has been much more mainstream," Jones said.

"Judas and the Black Messiah" opens today at area theaters and is also available to stream on HBO Max.

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