Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

We had very few role models back then. We had Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali. I had an FBI agent.

The Black Panther Party, the NAACP, the Crowns, the impoverished whites, all groups depicted or mentioned during the course of Judas and the Black Messiah; an abundance of organizations, but little actual organizing. Rather, poor and Black communities are shown to have a variety of interest groups dedicated to their issues, but ones that are fractured and disperse. Fred Hampton and his fellow party members attempt to hand out flyers promoting their Free Breakfast program and other communal services, yet they are met with skepticism and disregard from the people they are trying to help. Bringing power to the people requires that the people care enough to be empowered.

Bill O'Neal - the con man turned FBI informant played with a live wire energy by LaKeith Stanfield - says early on that he has never really thought about Civil Rights or other political movements. Or if he did, it was a passing regard. He has, as the quote above (paraphrased in the film from O'Neal's real interview for Eyes on the Prize) indicates, lacked for the kind of prominent, ubiquitous figureheads that white communities are inundated with through media, politics, and so on. And, of course, this is why the FBI truly want Fred Hampton taken off the board; he could be that figurehead, he could organize an unorganized people to rival the white systems that keep them fractured. White hegemony has spread doubt, hatred, and misinformation about poor and Black communities so pervasively that it has infiltrated and contaminated the communities, themselves; O'Neal becomes a microcosm for that contamination, far more willing to trust the white FBI agent who views him only as a tool than the man who has his best interests at heart.

Educative for those who had little familiarity with this particular piece of history (like myself), yet not uniquely insightful, Judas and the Black Messiah excels most as a crime thriller in the vein of The Departed, couching scenes of nail-biting tension in a grimy New Hollywood aesthetic.

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