The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
Erik Carter—The New York Times/Redux
By Ryan Coogler
September 15, 2021 7:19 AM EDT

To have a conversation with Daniel Kaluuya is a unique experience. He watches you with intense eyes and listens seemingly without fear or judgment, only attention and empathy. Admirers of Daniel’s craftsmanship often note his smile and how he breathes life into language. But I think his performances register on such a deep level because Daniel is a watcher, a listener, an empathetic soul committed to relating to other human beings, no matter who they are or where they are from.

When director Shaka King chose to cast him as Fred Hampton, a Black Panther Party leader who was killed in Chicago by police in 1969, in the 2021 film Judas and the Black Messiah, I figured there would come a time when Daniel would have to meet Hampton’s surviving family. I knew without question that Daniel would earn their confidence to portray their loved one and leader—due not to his celebrity, but his empathy. I can’t wait to see where that empathy takes Daniel next.

Coogler is a director and an Oscar-nominated producer

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