‘Judas And The Black Messiah’ Review By B. Gunn
One of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. is, “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” On October 15th, 1966, college students Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton would create one of the biggest movements beyond their wildest dreams; an organization to galvanize the oppressed nationwide – The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.
You see, it ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. But when the corrupt oppressor wants his gun back, he’ll use every tactic in the book he wrote to get it, including using one of the oppressed against their own.
In the new movie “Judas and the Black Messiah”, this story of betrayal won’t be biblical, but it will be just as diabolical.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” stars Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Dominique Fishback, and Jesse Plemons.
Based in Chicago, the films details the betrayal of Fred Hampton, chairman of The Black Panther Party in the late 1960’s at the hands of William “Bill” O’Neal, an FBI informant. Telling this story was tricky because since Hampton and the Panthers knew they were the subjects of wire-taps and secret infiltration, they were hesitant to give and keep information.
What director Shaka King did was use old recordings, out-of-print books, and interviews from surviving Black Panther members as source material. Fred Hampton, Jr. and his mother, Hampton’s partner, Deborah Johnson, were also consultants to make the story as authentic as possible.
The film opens with O’Neal, played by Stanfield, committing a crime, but eventually being caught and interrogated by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Plemons). A one-sided deal is made, one that will change O’Neal’s and ultimately Hampton’s lives forever.
Focusing on the relationship between O’Neal and Hampton is intriguing because that aspect of the many Black Panther stories has never been brought to the forefront. O’Neal is viewed as a rat, a soulless opportunist who put the wheels in motion that would have one of the most beloved and fearless Black Panther leaders assassinated.
In “Judas”, we go inside O’Neal’s head. His decisions aren’t that cut and dry. Yes, in the beginning he feeds a corrupt FBI information, but the more he rides with Hampton and the crew, the more loyal yet conflicted he becomes to them.
It tragically torments him and he conveys that inner-struggle perfectly onscreen, but the devil’s contract has been signed and there’s no escape. Kaluuya’s portrayal of Hampton is one of the best performances of his career. He embodies the gravitas and charisma of the real chairman, from his accent to his mannerisms. He faces certain struggles as well. The weight of the world is on his shoulders – heavy is the head that wears the crown.
These two form an indelible bond, which makes it very emotional for the audience since we know how this film will end. And although we can predict the film’s future, that doesn’t stop us from wanting to change it. Through profound cinematography and wardrobe, we are transported back to a time where police and society at large loathed African-Americans, and the only way we could survive was with each other’s help. Unfortunately, some needed help more than others, thus the plot for this film.
The entire cast is amazing. The makeup and prosthetics on Martin Sheen to make him look like FBI director J. Edgar Hoover doesn’t quite cut it. Hey, maybe that’s a COVID thing but boy does he look odd.
There are some scenes in which the accuracy may come into question that involve certain Black Panther members and dealings with police. Most of those accounts did not have eyewitnesses so King and his imagination had to cover for it and as you watch, the scenes are intense and dramatic.
Given that time period, it’s definitely not far-fetched. Also, the inaccuracies of the Black Panthers are corrected. King does a superb job of bringing to light their philanthropy and justice for ALL colors.
Packed with emotion, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the stimulus check of 2021 film, and I’m co-signing it to the fullest. Panther power on the hour from the rebel to you! Word to Public Enemy.
Watch The Trailer:
Did you see the film?
If so, what are your thoughts?