Judas and the black messiah is a fascinating true story of the betrayal and tumultuous racial reckoning of America in the 1960s. The FBI, under the authoritarian rule of J. Edgar Hoover, launched an illegal secret program – COINTELPRO – to infiltrate and undermine political organizations believed to pose a threat to national security. William O’Neal was hired to spy on and befriend Fred Hampton, the charismatic leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party. Judas and the black messiah interweaves an exciting story about the people, the period and the historical consequences of the operation. It is a complex, multi-layered representation of a movement that has encountered fundamental inequalities and beliefs in society. 2021 has its first big movie.
In 1968 Chicago, Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is a thief who steals cars with a fake FBI badge on them. He is caught after a particularly brazen attempt, but receives an unusual visitor at the police station. FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) is impressed with Bill’s audacity. He offers him a deal to avoid a substantial jail sentence. Become an FBI informant, join the local Black Panther chapter and immerse yourself in the life of its leader, young Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
When Bill O’Neal ascends into the Black Panthers, he and Agent Mitchell are surprised by Fred Hampton’s personality. He was an excellent speaker, but shy and reserved. Hampton was an organized idealogist who wanted concrete steps forward. Even more impressive was Hampton’s ability to attract other races to his cause. He successfully recruited whites, Puerto Ricans, and Chicago’s rival drug gangs. Hampton deviates from segregation theories and focuses on poverty as the underlying connecting factor.
J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), a virulent racist, viewed the Black Panthers as an existential threat to America. They were radical communists who believed in the arming of “negroes” and had their own schools, medical facilities and feeding programs; and active against accepted social norms. Hoover wanted the Black Panthers to be exterminated and destroyed by all means. He feared the rise of a “black messiah” who could not only inspire blacks to revolution, but also win supporters of sympathetic whites. Fred Hampton was literally the embodiment of his greatest fears.
Judas and the black messiah does not pull punches. The FBI methods used, ugly violence, and racial hostility are presented with an unvarnished view. But to his credit, director / co-writer Shaka King, who is incredible on his feature film debut, doesn’t let the film turn into anger and retribution. He humanizes every aspect of this story. This becomes particularly evident when Roy Mitchell is challenged by his colleagues after a terrible turnaround. He saw the Black Panthers and the Klu Klux Klan as different sides of the same coin. However, his interpretation of law enforcement acting impartially for the same good was not in line with the agency’s goals. Hoover stifled any disagreement.
Daniel Kaluuya, who had shown a wide range in his previous leading roles, must now be seen among Hollywood’s elite actors. Fred Hampton is portrayed with a gentle, disciplined Gravita that breaks out when the fire of the moment calls. His relationship with Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) adds tremendous depth to the character’s internal motivations. Hampton was barely an adult, only twenty-one then; Navigating the burden of guidance, love, and stubborn oppression. Kudos to Lakeith Stanfield too. William O’Neal understood the results of his betrayal. Stanfield is plagued with guilt throughout, but always clear in his intentions. O’Neal chose money and self-preservation at every crucial moment. The main screenings in this film are excellent.
Judas and the black messiah enthusiastic about the opening frame. Some scenes are difficult to see. The film is stark and uncompromising, but also brilliantly theatrical. It is imperative to see; regardless of different perspectives on race issues, the FBI and the Black Panthers. Judas and the black messiah provides a living backdrop for the ongoing divisions that still affect the country to this day. Fred Hampton’s life is truly an American story. Judas and the black messiah is a production by Bron Creative, MACRO and Participant Media. It will be released in theaters and HBO Max on February 12th by Warner Bros.
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