Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★★

Even though dealing with important and relevant social topics, this film also feels like the extremely well made blockbuster that we have been sorely missing out on this past year. And I’m really thankful we were able to get it on streaming. I’m not sure if I would’ve made the effort to go see it in the theater upon release (whatever reservation that is of mine, I don’t know, like somehow this wasn’t made for me, but of course after seeing it, it’s clear it couldn’t be more relevant to all of us). So I’m thankful to be able to see it now. It’s also hard to say if I’m qualified to speak on the social and political implications this film has for our current landscape. Other reviewers have done a good job of that, and I appreciate those reviews.

There are so many layers to this film, it’s hard to boil it down to praise for just one specific part. Yes the obvious starting point is the performance of Daniel Kaluuya and he deserves all the praise and likely awards that it would win or at least hopefully. But there are many other characters which I think measure up to close to what he was able to bring. I want to highlight the work of Lakeith Stanfield, his was the standout for me. I would say he is at the absolute apex of his craft with his performance in this film. I’ve read some criticism saying that his part is underwritten and we don’t see much of how he relates to others, and his building of trust or strong bonds with other characters isn’t fully formed. First of all I think this is wrong, but what’s amazing about him is that he can convey a whole range of emotions just by a few facial expressions, which can change from one second to the next, and we understand exactly the story he is telling us. And if he doesn’t relate to others, it’s because he is caught in between them and really only has the option to look out for himself. I consider that a mark of a great film, when we don’t follow a story just based on dialogue alone but also on observing the expressions of the characters. Sometimes reaction is better than action/dialogue, and Stanfield excels at that. Yes there were parts of his story that we didn’t get complete closure with, but that’s really the essence of the film, and a man conflicted, or more accurately, controlled.

The film is considered a biographical drama, a take on a historical account of true events, and whether it gets it completely correct, I can’t really say but I know that the narrative is important. From my standpoint, it’s most important because it’s very relevant to what we are seeing today. Just this past summer I heard rumblings from people I try not to pay much attention to that the BLM organization was marxist bent solely on destruction or terrorists, and at the time I laughed this off thinking that no one could possibly believe that. This film reminded me of how important it is not to just brush off extremist language towards others who are fighting for their own justice. If we forget history, we are certainly doomed to repeat it and that kind of thinking (or non-thinking/complacence) can lead to so much pain and loss for those affected, and loss of life. Lives that were destined to do great things like provide medical care for those that didn’t have the means, and give voices to the voiceless, and we still need that now.

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