Starting out behind a drum kit, the artist — wearing a sparking gold suit and her signature round sunglasses — then took to the front of the stage to sing the song. Here she was joined by a band of more than a dozen members, with a brass section, guitarists, back-up vocalists and more altogether creating the ’60s inspired-soul of the powerfully smoldering track.
The performance was intercut with statements from Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton, whose image was also projected on the floor of the stage. Judas and the Black Messiah, which documents the 1969 police assassination of Hampton, is nominated for five awards tonight including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for both Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield.
“I’m really excited for people to see it,” H.E.R. said of the performance when introducing it during the Oscars pre-show. “It’s very powerful and very important to me.
During the second half of the performance, a fleet of masked dancers — dressed, like the band, in a uniform of black leather — filled the stage, punctuating the performance with movement. The performance ended with these dancers raising their fists, while two banners proclaiming “power to the people” waved.
“We were listening to Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, we listened to a lot of Sly and the Family Stone, some of my favorites,” H.E.R. told The Hollywood Reporter of the track in February. “I picked up the bass thinking about this theme of fighting for something. Because there’s so many things that Fred Hampton was fighting for and that we are all still fighting for.”