Judas And The Black Messiah: Another Review. By Nick Boyd.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (inspired by a true story) is a riveting movie about a car thief named Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), who is given the choice by an FBI agent named Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to go to prison for what what he’s done or infiltrate the local Chicago Black Panthers Chapter. He chooses the latter, hence the biblical reference to Judas.
The film takes us back to Chicago in 1968, when crime and distrust of the police were both high. The distrust of the police was especially so among African Americans, which the Black Panthers tapped into when recruiting new members.
In the film, the Black Panther Party is led by the charismatic and inspirational Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who as one member remarks, is so good with words when he speaks, he is like a poet. As O’Neal is doing his undercover work for the FBI, he finds himself more and more drawn into the ideals and aspirations of the Black Panther Party, especially when we see him repeating fervently at a meeting, “I am a revolutionary!”
As he ascends up the organization, O’Neal is given the role of security captain and personal driver to Hampton. Later, a particularly tense moment for O’Neal occurs in the film when he learns from an out-of-state Black Panther about another informant who was allegedly tortured and killed when his cover was exposed. This causes O’Neal to have some serious doubts about the dangers he is facing, which he expresses to Mitchell, but he is in too deep so there is no turning back.
A tender romance develops between Hampton and a member in the organization named Judy Harmon (Dominique Thorne) who shows us the shy and vulnerable side of the confident and fiery Hampton. When Harmon finds out that she is pregnant, she is apprehensive that Hampton will not be there much for the child and that the boy will eventually follow in his dad’s precarious footsteps. While she loves him, some of the more violent messages that Hampton imparts to members trouble her.
The film smartly explores the ideologies of the Black Panther Party and what they stood for. While they understandably worked towards the empowerment of African Americans and gave back to the community through free breakfasts and health clinics, there was also the strong message that members should not be afraid to use violence to accomplish their goals if necessary.
The anti-police mindset and at times violent behavior is at the forefront of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s (an unrecognizable and bloated Martin Sheen) mission to stop the Black Panther Party in its tracks. In Hoover’s words, “The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. More than the Chinese. Even more than the Russians. Our counter-intelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black Messiah from among their midst.”
The acting is persuasive and passionate (with Kaluuya and Stanfield in particular delivering standout work) and while the picture is not much for subtlety it gets its points across effectively. It is also timely in its look at police brutality and needed reform.
Hampton’s message of civil rights is clearly seen today through the Black Lives Matter movement, showing that what he worked so hard to impart to his followers decades ago still has relevance in our troubled times today.
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