Keith and Kenny Lucas ’07 wore identical black round-framed glasses and green jackets over black hoodies tossed atop black baseball caps. At times they spoke as one, one brother seamlessly picking up the other’s thoughts without missing a beat.
Fortunately for the audience, the brothers sat cross-legged in their chairs on the Kendall Hall Main Stage — the only surefire way to tell them apart was remembering that the soles of Kenny’s shoes were white, and Keith’s were brown.
The Lucas Brothers, TCNJ alums and co-writers of the original screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film Judas and the Black Messiah, visited their alma mater on October 20 for an intimate conversation about their life and times at, and since, TCNJ. Faculty members Christopher Fisher and Piper Kendrix Williams moderated the discussion.
Here’s some of what they had to say about:
… being philosophy majors at TCNJ.
A chance read of Plato: Five Dialogues inspired the brothers to switch majors from political science to philosophy their sophomore year. “It fundamentally altered the way I see the world,” Kenny said.
“The anguish of being from the ghetto and being poor … you don’t have the terms to describe it,” Kenny said, asserting that studying French existentialists like Camus and Sarte at TCNJ gave them a language to interpret their condition, particularly around their experience growing up in Newark, New Jersey.
“Studying philosophy just forced us to challenge some of those assumptions that we just accepted growing up,” Keith said. “That’s why I love philosophy. It pushes you to question everything, for better or for worse.”
… learning about Fred Hampton, the subject of the film Judas and the Black Messiah.
The pair first learned of Fred Hampton in an African American history course with associate professor Christopher Fisher in spring 2006.
“I didn’t know about the story and I’m from Newark,” said Kenny. “We grew up in a Black radical tradition. Nothing about Fred Hampton. I was in awe of his story, and so once we got into entertainment, we felt it was our duty to bring his story to a broader national audience.”
But it wasn’t easy.
… pitching their screenplay for Judas and the Black Messiah.
Though they had a story, getting it considered for the silver screen was a years-long process that was met with plenty of rejection.
“The one thing about Hollywood,” said Kenny, “they don’t want to make movies about socialists, and they certainly don’t want to make movies about Black socialists.”
As artists, the Lucas Brothers took it upon themselves to create things that speak to what’s happening now. “We were fortunate enough for Judas to come out at a time when we’re in a moment of crisis,” said Keith.
… Black art and activism.
With Judas releasing in February 2021, the brothers humbly consider themselves part of a renaissance for Black artists that they posit likely started in 2013 with the release of the film 12 Years a Slave.
Kenny said: “To be a Black artist, to be a Black intellectual, you’re having to stand on the shoulders of people who have died to get you there, so to some degree you’re paying respect to them by carrying on this political fight, because it never stops.”
… being identical twins.
Their mom, Mary, dressed them alike and it stuck. But why the same college, the same major, and now a career together?
“My identity is so tied to my twinship,” said Kenny, who admitted feeling depression and anxiety being a singleton in law school at NYU while Keith was in law school at Duke University. “He makes me a richer thinker, and a deeper intellectual.”
“He’s my creative partner, it’s symbiotic,” said Keith. “We’ve been able to do a lot of dope things together.”
Eventually though, said Kenny, they’ll start dressing differently. Maybe.
Watch and listen to the entire conversation with Keith and Kenny Lucas on YouTube.
— Emily W. Dodd ’03