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(Credit: Universal Pictures)

Film

Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to Daniel Kaluuya

Daniel Kaluuya is perhaps best known for his role as Chris in Jordan Peele’s 2017 Oscar-winning film Get Out. However, the British actor began acting as a child, writing his own plays as young as nine, subsequently leading to his participation in theatre performances. He joined the Anna Scher Theatre School, one of the first of its kind aimed at working-class children, and developed a love for improvisational theatre.

Kaluuya’s first feature film role came in 2006, playing Reece in controversial BBC drama Shoot the Messenger, age 17. However, he gained more recognition when he joined the cast of popular Channel Four teen drama Skins, which first aired in 2007, alongside Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel. His character ‘Posh Kenneth’, a teenager who attempts to hide his overly articulate accent, is only a minor role. Instead, Kaluuya took a more active role behind the camera; he was assigned head writer for two episodes of the hit series, ‘Jal’ and ‘Thomas.’

After landing more film and television gigs, he played the lead role in Sucker Punch at the Royal Court Theatre in 2010, which was met with much critical acclaim, winning him multiple accolades such as Best Newcomer by the Evening Standard Awards. One of Kaluuya’s first major films was Johnny English Reborn (2011), and in 2013, he went to Hollywood and appeared in Kick Ass 2. By 2015. Kaluuya had starred in the highly successful Sicario, directed by Dennis Villeneuve.

Since his ground-breaking performance in Get Out, Kaluuya has gone on to appear in some extremely successful projects, from joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2018’s Black Panther to portraying Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. Here, we trace his career so far through his six definitive films.

Daniel Kaluuya’s six definitive films:

Black Mirror: ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ (Euros Lyn, 2011)

Although not technically a film, this episode from the anthology series Black Mirror is a vital part of Kaluuya’s filmography, and he may not be where he is today if he had not participated in the show. The actor plays Bing, who is a member of a dystopian society where people live in screen-covered rooms, earning currency called merits by using exercise bikes.

The episode is a biting critique of capitalism, technology, and talent shows, and Kaluuya plays his role excellently – his relationship with Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) was compared to that of Winston and Julia in George Orwell’s 1984. Luckily, for Kaluuya, Jordan Peele was a big fan of his performance, leading the actor to be cast in his incredible modern horror Get Out, albeit six years after ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ aired.

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

Kaluuya’s breakthrough role came in the form of Jordan Peele’s 2017 horror-comedy Get Out. The film explores the relationship between a young black man (Kaluuya) and his white girlfriend (Allison Williams), and the unnerving secrets he uncovers when he meets her family for the first time. The film grossed $225 million worldwide and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Kaluuya’s incredible performance earned him nominations from the Academy, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, Critic’s Choice Awards, and more. Dubbed as a modern American horror classic, the British actor’s stellar performance largely contributed to the film’s incredible status, perfectly executing the role of an unsuspecting man who discovers the unimaginable secrets of his girlfriend’s family.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler, 2018)

Appearing as the 18 film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther features a star-studded cast, including the late Chadwick Boseman, alongside Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’yong’o, and Martin Freeman. Daniel Kaluuya plays W’Kabi, a close friend of main character T’Challa, and head of security for the Border Tribe.

Describing the filming of Black Panther, Kaluuya said that “there was just an energy. Everyone was so privileged to be part of this moment”. Furthermore, he stated that “we’re able to show this world in a way that we see us, and it being a Marvel film…when people receive it and people take it as their own, and kids and families are going dressed to the cinemas, it makes everything worth it”/

Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

12 Years a Slave (2013) and Hunger (2008) director Steve McQueen tried his hand at a heist thriller in 2018, based on a screenplay co-written with Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn. Alongside Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriquez, and Elizabeth Debicki, Kaluuya features as Jatemme, a mob enforcer and the brother of Brian Tyree Henry’s character Jamal.

Kaluuya’s character often looms in the background, but his presence is unforgettable. He masters the subtle art of hand movements and facial expressions to create an incredible performance and was even nominated for Supporting Actor of the Year at the London Film Critic’s Circle.

Queen and Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019)

In Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut, Queen and Slim, Daniel Kaluuya plays Slim alongside Jodie Turner-Smith who plays Queen. The film centres around the couple who go on the run after accidentally murdering a police officer during an argument in an act of self-defence. The film makes important statements about police brutality and race, and Kaluuya delivers an emotive and impactful performance as Slim.

Talking about his role, Kaluuya said: “I really like Slim as a person, he’s an interesting person to play because he’s so satisfied and simple, in the best way. It’s like ‘Ah man, I should really strive for that’”.

Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2021)

Shaka King’s depiction of the betrayal of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, Judas and the Black Messiah, earned Kaluuya his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2021. The film follows the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party as a young car thief makes a deal with the FBI to infiltrate the party and gain information about leader Hampton.

Kaluuya, whose casting was given a blessing by the real Fred Hampton’s widow and son, delivers an emotive and powerful performance as the party leader. Despite being a decade older than the man he portrayed, he still manages to deliver an utterly convincing performance that critics labelled as “transcendent” and a “triumph”.