∞ Ben(ch)’s review published on Letterboxd:
As tempting as it is to write some self-indulgent polemic decrying this film’s portrayal of the assassinated socialist revolutionary Fred Hampton, I’ll try and keep things brief. Let’s be clear...there’s a reason Shaka's movie scored some shiny trophies at the Academy Awards. There’s a reason white consensus embraces this particular piece of art with open arms, adulating, smirking. Effectively, King has neutralized Hampton’s utopianism—his legacy, the material contradictions which his mission aimed to elevate into public consciousness, thereby revealing the “pure” antagonism of Capital as it had, has, will, humiliate us working class since the dissolution of the feudal regime. Herein King has made himself a ‘thriller’ and as such Black Messiah has been jailed by the very genre through which it communicates. Its form, its gaze, its content, boils itself down into the baseless entertainment of boujie prestige drama. Beautiful and contextless, there is no truth here. Only narrative. Only spin. Only script. God lord, putting William O’Neil at the center of the story, allowing him to be our emotional nexus (delivered w/ such a hollow, unmotivated performance by Stanfeild), is irredeemable. Literally…the FBI endorsed killer, this goon of the State, this turncoat who aided in COINTELPRO’s eradication of homegrown leftwing organization, is the audiences’ proxy? Let me ask you this…what did y’all learn about the Panther’s after watching this? What of their manifesto, their tactics, their insight has survived in your mind outside of some posturing and Obama-style calls for racial unity? I think King’s script may mention the word ‘socialism’ twice through the whole of the runtime, if we’re lucky. We do hear the word “people” a lot though, echoing forever on like a broken PA system. “People”. “People”. “People”. Incognito masses. The thrum of the urban world, simmered down to its most digestible, insignificant signifier. “People”. In the words of the ever-eloquent Jason Myles “I think this movie is going to sell a lot of t-shirts”. What a joke. I can’t…they even have the gall to give Roy Mitchell a sliver of sympathy. We’re not going to mention the historical liberties King takes with the actual incidents of police violence. Suffice it say…he always makes sure to let the revolutionaries pull out their guns first. Due cause my ass. So, forget the movie’s formal eloquence (Sean Bobbit’s good eye for the frame, his allegiance to space, place, the decay of the street) and beware. Forget Kaluyaa’s knockout performance; beware. This flick’ isn’t about Fred Hampton nor his politics nor the US guv’s GLOBAL war against autonomous, working-class movements or even William’s own disingenuous shame. It’s about speeches. It’s about tension. It says the black panthers were a mystical sham. A reactionary outcrop, lead by a few eloquent young lads but doomed nonetheless by, uh, Martin Sheen in fat-face? It’s all in the past now. Sleep tight. Props to DK for his award, I guess. Critical reaction to J&TBM can’t be levied on the actors alone. But, really, don’t watch this movie…READ. Educate yourself, cause’ clearly the cinema won’t do it for you.