The supporting cast does a tremendous job fleshing out the Black Panther Party, and reminding viewers that this is not just a tale of two men, but of one an entire movement, a revolution that endures to this very day. Dominique Fishback (Project Power) delivers a stellar performance as Deborah Johnson as the film navigates her burgeoning romance with the Chairman. As she keeps him on his toes and their relationship progresses, his speeches become more powerful; they are imbued with a deep sense of humanism that comes to define the film more than one might expect. The fire of revolution is kept steady by the warmth of love. In one of the most intimate scenes of the film, we realize Chairman Fred was actually a very shy man, struggling to speak to Johnson. We asked Kaluuya about this aspect of Hampton’s personality: “Human beings and spirits are not just one thing … in order to register the confidence, you have to be intimate with it.” In the portrayal of the Chairman’s and Johnson’s relationship, the film offers a portrait of Hampton as a human. Chairman Fred may have been a revolutionary and a gifted orator, but he was also just a kid, inexperienced with love. The chemistry between Kaluuya and Fishback is so genuine that Deborah Johnson herself, who now goes by Mother Akua Njeri, described how it caused her to realize “how much [she] missed the love and camaraderie” of Chairman Fred.
Beyond the stellar performances and narrative, the film is a technical delight as well. The production design and costuming buck the stereotypical reds and yellows of ‘60s period pieces such as Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, instead opting for greens, blacks, and browns that allow the film to accurately capture the essence of the time instead of fetishizing it and reducing it to an aesthetic. The color palette, as developed by these in conjunction with the lighting, is rich without feeling oversaturated, another rebuttal of traditional renditions of the ‘60s that proves effective. The three work in lockstep, often rendering shots with the feeling that they are photographs from the time come to life— it feels authentic.