Being truly equal and accepted by all is something we all strive for and for some, it’s a journey that encompasses ones life. Judas and the Black Messiah is a film that has been long previewed and is one of the most highly anticipated films and now that the film has been released in theaters and via HBOMAX, has the wait been worth it? The short answer is yes and the result is an emotionally riveting picture that showcases fine acting (worthy of major awards I might add) and social themes that are as important now as they were over fifty years ago.
The story takes places in Chicago, during the late 1960s, as the rise of the Black Panther Party is starting to take shape. One of the most vocal voices in the community is that of a young man named Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Although he’s just barely twenty years old, this man has a lot of ideas in order to oversee the changes in his communities throughout Chicago. Instead of all the fighting within the gang community, Hampton strives for social change and enlists the help of a notorious gang to help put forth his ideas. He’s not a violent man whatsoever, but is seen as a threat by local police and even the F.B.I.
His mission is simple; bringing about change by working with the people in order to influence the local governments to change. Not so much as overthrowing the government or doing a systematic takeover, but actions spoken loudly with words. Sort of like a poet when putting pen to paper. Hampton makes speeches and even visits local businesses around Chicago to get his message out. While everyone sounds good and appears promising, the police aren’t willing to listen and the Black Panthers are often met with violence and what would be considered today to be police brutality. This is also the time of when J.Edgar Hoover was in charge of the F.B.I. and will his radical and often cruel ideas of delivering justice, the Black Panthers are an easy target. Especially when it suits an agenda for a certain someone’s greater cause.
Aside from all the speeches, lectures and threats looming around the corner, this movie also tells the story of a man named Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) whose troubles with the law gives him a unique choice; go to prison for the crimes he committed or act as an informant for the F.B.I. His story introduces us into the world of the Black Panthers and what they exactly stood for and believed in as opposed to how law enforcement saw them. What’s interesting about his character is that he treats his assignment just like any other job he would do and we aren’t exactly sure on where his politics stand. Another addition to the film is Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah (Dominique Fishback) who offers Hampton advice on his speeches and literary usage in order to make him a better man in the long run.
Judas and the Black Messiah is the perfect title for this film and as you watch it you’ll understand why. The movie was directed by Shaka King, who also contributed to the script alongside Will Berson and Kenny and Keith Lucas, and he does a great job of telling the story as a whole even if the first thirty minutes may feel a bit slow. Even still, the cinematography is amazing, the settings are well established and returning to the late 1960s was a nice throwback to an era way before I was born. I enjoyed both Kaluuya and Stanfield, and while Kaluuya is sure to get a lot of press for his performance, I was very moved by Stanfield and the situation that he character was thrusted into. I almost forgot to mention Jesse Plemons as the F.B.I handler of O’Neal. They share scenes together that at one point left me breathless
Not only is this a movie to cherish in relation to a retelling of history but it feel so relevant to the events that have unfolded in the United States over the past year alone. It’s such a shame that people are still fighting over their rights and how the criminal justice system treats people differently based on the color of your skin; something that just a genetic accident and only appears on the surface. This movie rocks you emotionally, educates you on the real goal of the Black Panther Party and how multiple organizations within the criminal justice system did all they could to thwart an idea that was only based on peace and unity. This is an important film to watch and may leave you with tears in your end as the end credits roll.
Score 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Judas and the Black Messiah is a film and encapsulates a story that is still being actively told today more than fifty years later. With exceptional performances, strong direction from Shaka King and a powerful and moving script, this film is an emotionally wrought experience that is meant to move you and leave you with an understanding of how a problem can grow and grow and still not be rectified. It may be only February but Judas and the Black Messiah will be on everyone’s mind for the remainder of the year. It’s certainly one of the most moving and formidable piece of filmmaking in recent memory. Do not miss this!