Judas and the Black Messiah – Film Review
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith Martin Sheen
Director: Shaka King
Synopsis: After being caught committing a crime, a man is given a chance by law enforcement to become an FBI informant as they seek to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and keep tabs on its chairman, Fred Hampton…
Review: If someone were to ask you about the influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, names like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks may jump to mind. These are the names of extremely influential individuals who are the subject of curriculums worldwide, and have been the subject of numerous films, so that just about everyone on Planet Earth is likely to know who they are. Yet, there are certain influential figures that may not garner quite the level of attention, but when you learn more about them, it’s a wonder why they are not as well known as some of the the other influential leaders of this movement. This is most definitely applicable in the case of Frederick Allen Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party, and the deputy chairman of the national BPP.
Having been caught committing a crime by the police, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) finds himself in a very perilous position. If he’s charged, he faces almost certain prison time. However, there’s another option for him, as he’s given a chance to escape a jail sentence by becoming an FBI informant. The FBI are seeking to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the BPP, to keep tabs on the activities of Fred Hampton and do whatever they can to suppress the party and Hampton’s agenda to help the lives of numerous people oppressed by the society they’re living in. Yet in the eyes of the government, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, they consider Hampton to be a radical figure, and a substantial threat. Having had the most fleeting of appearances in last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is 100% Hampton’s story, and, from the very first minute, it’s an informative, exhilarating and extremely maddening chapter of US history that demands to be told.
Daniel Kaluuya is an actor who has been consistently pulling amazing performances over the last few years. From a run that started with his Oscar nominated turn in Get Out, to last year’s Queen & Slim, he has consistently proved why he is one of the best actors currently in the business. With this transformative turn as Hampton, it’s another absolutely magnetic performance to add to that list. Every time he speaks, his words captivate the crowds he’s talking to, which extends to the audience. You see a man who’s passionate about helping people who are oppressed by a government and a society that is built upon systemic racism. While Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely worthy of all the superlatives in the world, the equally impressive work of Lakeith Stanfield must not be overlooked, as it is, and an integral part of what makes the film work. We watch through his eyes as he initially is forced into this role of infiltration, and it’s a role that makes you want to hate him. Yet, as he spends more time by Hampton’s side, it’s plain to see that he’s starting to believe in the causes that Hampton and the Black Panthers are championing.
Alongside the outstanding performances of Stanfield and Kaluuya, are an equally impressive collection of supporting characters that includes, Dominique Fishback’s beautiful performance as Deborah, the most important person in Fred’s personal life. Additionally, there’s a great performance from Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, the slimy and manipulative FBI agent who’s keeping tabs on O’Neal as he goes about his task of infiltration. With every word spoken in the film, it is clear what screenwriters, Shaka King, the Lucas brothers, and Will Berson are hoping to accomplish with this film. A clip plays near the beginning of the film of news reels from the time says “Those are not riots, they are rebellions, people are rebelling because of the conditions, and not because of individuals, no individual creates a rebellion.” When you watch the film’s events play out, it is fairly easy to connect the dots between the 1960s and the 21st century.
Given the horrifying events that the world saw in 2020, Shaka King’s film provides an urgent message that demands everyone’s attention. It is a damning indictment that in the decades since Hampton fought against this unjust society, that not nearly enough progress has been made. Furthermore, the events of not just last year, but of many years gone by, have shown that it is infuriatingly plain for all to see that the systemic oppression against people of colour in our society has not been dismantled. The rebellion that people like Hampton fought for, is one that must continue. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” It is a testament to Hampton that in the years since he uttered those famous words: that they ring truer now more than ever. The fires of revolution are burning stronger than perhaps ever before, and long may that continue.