The past decade has seen the impressive trajectory of Daniel Kaluuya whose rapid rise to fame in Hollywood has been solidified by a fascinating selection of roles. Having started out in theater doing plays like Sucker Punch before transitioning to television in the British series Skins during the late 2000s, the British actor has built a magnificent list of noteworthy performances since his major breakout role in Get Out. Between his work in several short films like Jonah and Two Single Beds, he successfully landed roles in significant American projects and even recently had a stint hosting Saturday Night Live. With Jordan Peele’s Nope officially being in theaters, here are Kaluuya’s best performances and where to stream them.
Where it all began for Kaluuya and Peele’s golden collaboration, Get Out was the film that catapulted both actor and director to new heights of recognition in Hollywood. Kaluuya played the lead as Chris Washington, a photographer who goes on a trip to meet the family of his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), only to discover their dark secret that targets and endangers black people. The horror thriller is regarded as an iconic film in the cultural zeitgeist that delivered sharp social commentary on racism with a riveting and unpredictable plot.
Kaluuya even earned his first Oscar nomination for his performance that made Chris a grounded and relatable protagonist that the audience was completely rooting for throughout the movie. Chris’s suspicion grows into genuine fear and desperation as everything unravels with Rose’s real motivations.
Black Mirror (2011)
In one of his earliest roles, Kaluuya was part of the first season of the satirical anthology series, Black Mirror, in the second episode titled “Fifteen Million Merits”. He plays the character of Bingham “Bing” Madsen, a man who lives in a dystopian lifestyle of people living in enclosed cells with TV screens that show constant advertisements or superficial entertainment. They’re also required to cycle on exercise bikes to earn a form of currency called “merits” that pays for their necessities. Breaking the repetitious routine, he connects with a new fellow resident rider named Abi Khan (Jessica Brown Findlay) and enjoys her singing. Blinded by his feelings for her, he spends 15 million merits for her to land an audition on a talent show and possibly move up into a more luxurious lifestyle. When Abi doesn’t find success, and it seems Bing has wasted his merits, he snaps and realizes the corrupt nature of the system.
Kaluuya delivers a memorable performance as the episode’s underdog protagonist who starts out very quiet and closed off due to the isolative and desensitizing nature of their lifestyle. As he embraces his humanity again in forming a bond with Abi, that’s only when he becomes disillusioned by the exploitive class system they live in. Bing’s frustrated speech encapsulates everything that is wrong with the merits system and results in the signature ironic ending that most Black Mirror episodes depict.
For Steve McQueen‘s heist drama, Widows, Kaluuya takes on a darker role as Jatemme Manning. He’s the brother of Jamal (Brian Tyree Henry), a crime boss and politician, and works as his behind-the-scenes mob enforcer. The pair serve as the film’s antagonists opposite the group of titular widows called together by Veronica Rawlings (Viola Davis). The misfit group commits to carrying out a heist to solve their financial struggles that were a result of their deceased husbands’ involvement with criminal activity.
In an impressive star-studded cast, Kaluuya stands out as the menacing and violent force that fuels Jamal’s political aspirations. He leads a crusade to clear the path for his brother’s victory which conflicts with the plans of Veronica and ultimately reaches a dangerous climax. This is one of the few roles where Kaluuya has swapped out being the good guy for a more nefarious character, but it can be easily agreed that he played the part of Jatemme very effectively in this film.
Ryan Coogler‘s Black Panther marked Kaluuya’s entry into the MCU as W’Kabi, a confidant to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the Head of Security for the Border Tribe. He comes across as a very loyal and hardworking fighter similar to his wife, Okoye (Danai Gurira), who is head of the all-female special forces group, the Dora Milaje. Kaluuya presents the personal and professional conflict of W’Kabi especially when Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) enters Wakanda to challenge T’Challa’s claim to the throne. With wavering faith in T’Challa’s abilities as a leader, W’Kabi switches his alliance to Killmonger whose ideology promises more effective solutions. Ultimately, the clash between T’Challa and Killmonger ripples through Wakanda as the tribes also battle each other. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, W’Kabi surrenders the fight to Okoye as the two choose between their love or loyalty to the throne.
Kaluuya maintains a track record of portraying American characters beginning in Denis Villeneuve‘s thriller film Sicario. He played the role of Reggie Wayne, the idealistic FBI partner of Special Agent Kate Macer (Emily Blunt). The two are enlisted by a government task force led by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and are subsequently thrown into the deep end of the gray and lawless mission of trying to stop a Mexican cartel.
Despite having a small role, Kaluuya’s chemistry opposite Blunt captures the deep trust and camaraderie between the two agents who clutch onto their principles of doing things by the book. He embodies the physicality of the rookie agent during the suspenseful action sequences but also carries the diligence of Reggie who has a law degree combined with his field experience.
Another notable leading performance from Kaluuya includes his role in Queen & Slim as Ernest “Slim” Hines. The crime drama takes on a modernized Bonnie and Clyde tone where Slim and Anjelah “Queen” Johnson (Jodie Turner-Smith) go on the run following an incident with a police officer. The film presents the complicated and loaded scenario that both protagonists fall into only because of the racially targeted harassment they first received at the hands of the police. Ultimately, the movie poses the question of which side of the law is truly at fault and how Queen and Slim are more so victims than criminals despite what the media depicts.
Kaluuya’s palpable chemistry with Smith forms the heart of the story as their relationship develops from an innocent Tinder date with superficial bickering to complete trust and dependence on each other for their survival. The twists and turns throughout the film prompts the audience to be invested in their fight against the police. He also captures the incredible transformation of Slim as a straightforward citizen embracing the strange liberation as a convicted outlaw.
Finally, Kaluuya’s award-winning role was in the biographical crime drama Judas and the Black Messiah where he portrayed the Black Panther Party (BPP) chairman, Fred Hampton. He reunited with Get Out costar Lakeith Stanfield who played the titular Judas, Bill O’Neal, who infiltrated the Black Panther Party as an FBI informant. Set during the late 60s in Chicago at the height of the civil rights movement, the film explores the legacies entwined between these two figures and the complex involvement of Bill O’Neal in Fred Hampton’s tragically short-lived service as the BPP spokesperson.
Kaluuya holds a commanding presence as Hampton especially when delivering the impassioned speeches that motivate all the BPP followers. Despite Hampton constantly facing threats for his outspoken calls for justice, he remained a calm and rightful leader even when O’Neal’s actions endangered him in the end. The humanity in Hampton is shown through his romantic relationship with fellow BPP member, Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). As mentioned, Kaluuya earned his second Oscar nomination and actually won in the Best Supporting Actor category. He also won a Golden Globe, SAG Award, and a BAFTA for his performance in the film.