Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★½

What would Fred Hampton himself think of this? There’s a scene near the end (no worries, no spoilers) where the Panthers are solely focused on Hampton’s welfare, and he suggests they focus instead on their mission, on their ideals and dreams as Black Panthers. I suspect he would react to this film in a similar way.

There seem to be four or five focal points here, none of which are more than a blur, and two that should be excised with prejudice. Coming so closely on the heels of the Small Axe films, this is thoroughly overshadowed by the expert example McQueen provides for bringing civil strife to life in ways that feel immediate, truly soulful, and rooted in a specific place at a specific time. This is none of that. This is a commercial product, a package that dilutes and diminishes its characters for the sake of showcasing an historical episode. It offers up archetypes instead of individuals, gouts of drama instead of a story, sentiment instead of ideas.

Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal were 19- and 20-years-old, respectively, when they first met. Fred Hampton was a passionate Marxist-Leninist, a committed revolutionary, a young leader with outsized power. Bill O’Neal was a scared kid. These were very young men playing with fire for the most righteous imaginable cause: human dignity, and the least: self-preservation. The makers of this film lack either the inspiration or the courage to tell that story, what could be a spikey, dense and heady tale. I hope some day someone tells it.

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