After watching Judas and the Black Messiah, I am even more hyped to be a black person. This film is the timeliest film I think I’ve ever seen. I’m shocked it got made.
Judas and the Black Messiah, directed by Shaka King, recalls the events that led to the assassination of Black Panther Party leader, Fred Hampton. The film follows Willie O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, and Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya, as their lives intersect. It’s streaming on HBO Max through March 14th. O’Neal has become an FBI informant in order to save himself a prison sentence. His task is following and giving information on Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago Black Panther Party.
The film makes the wise choice of not being a biopic – it doesn’t trace the lives of either O’Neal or Hampton – but instead dumps us in the middle of the action – when both men were “adults” and as the Black Panther Party was rising as an important political voice.
The film doesn’t waste time attempting to give a history lesson, instead it uses history to delivery one of the best thrillers of the past five years. The movie puts genre first, while also being true to the history of the story. So much so, that Hampton’s family were heavily involved with its creation. Kaluuya and Stanfield turn out the performances of their lives and we can only hope the Academy is comfortable honoring more POC folks this year.
Heavy On History But Not A Biopic
While there have been several documentaries made over the years about the impact and importance of the Black Panther Party, there are few Hollywood films about the importance of their activism. Judas and the Black Messiah makes that work the heart of the film. The phrase “Black Messiah” isn’t something invented for the film – it’s how J. Edgar Hoover referred to Fred Hampton.
Hoover felt that black militants were the greatest internal threat to national security and feared the emergence of a national leader who could inspire crowds. The white conservative hasn’t grown past that fear – the summers of 2015 and 2020 are proof of that. The “man” doesn’t want minorities to rise up and overthrow the systems of oppression that hold them down. While there may not be a well spoken leader – this film is beyond inspiring to the push toward democratic socialism and revolution for the people. This is not just a historical thriller, it’s a current movie. Our society is facing questions of race, systemic racism, and economic injustice like we haven’t seen since the 1960’s, and this is a movie set in the 1960’s, rife with…well if they aren’t answers, they’re certainly ideas to ponder.
Judas and the Black Messiah masterfully mixes genre with history to create a film that feels like an instant classic, while also being the exact story we need right now.
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