The year was 2013, and the publicist for the indie comedy “Newlyweeds” promised me, underscore and highlight in bold-block, that I would love the film and the director — Shaka King — and he was spot-on-correct.
King is a beloved son of New York. Raised in the pre-gentrification of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. From our first meeting, inside a Starbucks on 14th and 8th Avenue, in the newly gentrified section of trendy Chelsea, the filmmaker laid out his plan. I listened and more importantly, I heard him. What I understood — then — that he was a man of activism and that he would use his creative skills to make a difference and open doors for people that look like us.
During the years, I kept in touch with King telling my colleagues to keep an eye on this man. Some people tossed me that cheeky-side eye. No matter. Brother King is not pressed because it’s impossible to chip away at a confident soul who knows where they are going, and more to the point, why they are going there. So the matching of Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther”) and Charles King (Macro) producing, along with King, the Oscar-nominated film “Judas and the Black Messiah” I know is divinely aligned.
Laugh if you want to, but the energy of our ancestors is real. It takes grit to get a film like “Judas and the Black Messiah” made in Hollywood. Despite what it looks like from the surface, it took years to get this film made. And it took the combined energy of Ryan Coolger (“Black Panther”), and Charles King (MACRO); African-American men with experience and purpose.
Remember “Black Panther” earned $1.3 billion worldwide, so Coogler had hard-earned clout which he used to get the film made.
Fast-forward and “Judas and the Black Messiah” has placed producers Coogler, King, and King in the cinematic history books, marking them as the first all-African American producing team nominated for best picture in the 93-year history of the Oscars.
93 years. Ponder this number. 93 years. That’s not a reason to celebrate. I’m sorry. It’s not. What the 93 years speak to is what is fundamentally wrong about the prejudiced people that run the Hollywood entertainment industry.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” also surpassed “The Color Purple” (1985), to become the film with the highest number of African-American Oscar nominees in history, ten, including LaKeith Stanfield, for best-supporting actor; Daniel Kaluuya for best-supporting actor; Shaka King, Keith and Kenny Lucas for original screenplay; and H.E.R., Derns Emile II and Tiara Thomas for best original song.
How many, if any Oscars “Judas and the Black Messiah” will win at the
93rd Oscars will be answered on Sunday, April 25, 2021, in an event that is held, in part, virtually and at the Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite.
Here is what award-winning, Oscar-nominated director, producer, and screenwriter Shaka King had to share about “Judas and the Black Messiah” and being the Honoary Chair for the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Shaka King.
SHAKA KING: Lapacazo Sandoval.
LAS: You did the damn thing, I’m not mad at you. I’m proud. I saw it in 2013 with “Newlyweeds” and when you won the 2014 film Independent Indie Spirit Awards’ “One To Watch” award, I sent a lot of “I told you” emails.
SK: (laughing) I know. I know. You believed early.
LAS: I remember you telling me, years ago, your desire to open the doors for other people of color. You’ve not changed.
SK: Thank you.
LAS: You are welcome. I love that you are the Honorary Chair for the 2021 Independent Spirit Awards. Why is this important?
SK: I remember going to that Spirit Awards, where I met you, and I had, like 25 dollars in my bank account.
SK: And at that brunch when I received that cash grant ($25,000) it sustained me for another year. It allowed me to write a television series that I ended up selling to HBO. It allowed me the time to direct [the short film] “Mulignans.” It just allowed me to keep moving forward. And so, when they asked me to come on as an Honorary Chair, first, I was honored that they would think of me. For me, it was a no-brainer because I know that, that organization [Film Independent] what they did for me, they do for so many other filmmakers over the years.
LAS: Yes. I’m a big fan of Film Independent. They step to the plate for sure.
SK: You know, when you are first getting started in the film industry it’s incredibly daunting. Most of us that get into this, don’t come from an entertainment background.
SK: So what I always describe it was, is that you need kindling. Kindling. If you are looking to build a fire, you need kindling and every little bit helps. Getting into the IFP market, which they use to have in New York. You probably remember that.
LAS: I do.
SK: I was in the IFP market when I was 24 in a screenplay competition. That helped. Yes, everything is going to come from the belief that you have in yourself but you also need other people to believe in you. And I’ve experienced that so many times, in so many ways.
LAS: Yes King. Yes.
SK: And whenever and wherever I can do that for someone else, I try to.
LAS: Over the years, I’ve used you as an example to other filmmakers because, Shaka — you never stopped creating. You were always on your creative grind.
SK: Thank you.
LAS: The Hollywood Reporter, March 31, 2021 cover which has you along with Ryan Coolger (“Black Panther”) and Charles King (MACRO) took my breath away.
What’s shitty is that your three are the first all-African American producing team nominated for best picture in the 93-year history of the Oscars.
SK: We are the first — like you said — but we got here because of us.
SK: It was Charles [King] and Ryan [Coolger] utilizing the access that they gained, and by the way, they got to where they got by helping each other.
SK: Yes. Charles was Ryan’s agent for many years, and Ryan’s success only helped Charles build his brand.
LAS: King, I’m getting those bumpy chills dancing all over my arms.
SK: So, it’s been a series of folks reaching back and pulling up other individuals coming after them. You know. Ryan and I met in 2013 at Sundance [Film Festival] and we formed a genuine friendship and I could have never imagined, that years later we would be working together. It was certainly nothing that neither of us had even thought about.
LAS: Divinely aligned. Ancestor work in my mind’s eye.
SK: But God bless him, that he keyed into the idea that I put in front of him. He [Ryan Coogler] utilized his access, his talent, his know-how and just helped us get this movie made, and get my career to the next phase.
LAS: That’s exciting because when I interviewed him in 2015, for the New York Amsterdam News, he made it clear, he was about helping other storytellers, of color, achieve their goals.
Nice to know that neither of you has changed.
SK: Thank you.
LAS: Good luck on Sunday, April 25, 2021. You’ve already won. A statue or no statue. I send you love and light, Shaka King.
SK: Thank you, Lapacazo Sandoval.