Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★½

It was on November 4th at 4:45 AM that the FBI assassinated Fred Hampton. Hampton, drugged by barbiturates, was sleeping on a mattress with his pregnant fiancee Deborah Johnson when the FBI forcibly removed her from Hampton. She could hear agents discuss Hampton’s injury to his shoulder, to which they shot him in the head twice at point-blank range. The words hung in the air like a bitter truth; a truth that the American system was out for murder, “He’s good and dead now,” it was after those words latched onto every ear in that room that FBI agents dragged Hampton’s body into the bedroom doorway. The remaining Panthers were then dragged out into the street. Beaten and arrested, the FBI charged the Panthers with aggravated assault and attempted murders of officers. Their bail was $100,000. The FBI fired 99 rounds that night with the Panthers only firing one bullet, enough for the FBI to throw the book at the Panthers to keep the revolutionaries from ever finishing Hampton’s mission - to unite those under the oppression of the government. In January 1970, Hampton’s death ruled as justifiable homicide to the rightful rage of the public.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a 2021 film directed by Shaka King dealing with the assassination of chairman of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, at the hands of William O’Neal, who becomes an FBI informant after being arrested by Roy Mitchell who offers him a way out of prison time - become an informant and get close to Fred Hampton. Knowing what happens to Fred Hampton is important to the message of the film. It adds to that depressive political tragedy that it is. The state murdered Hampton since he sought to weaken it by allowing the working class to take charge and seize control. The script offers a powerful image of 1960s America through each line sputtered out by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, whose words ring the reality of his paranoid fears. The script is a radical telling of Fred Hampton’s life. In Hollywood it is common to see civil rights movies whitewash or soften the images of these revolutionaries, instead, Shaka King opts to tell it as Fred Hampton was - radical, fresh, and riveting.

The acting ties the film together. Not in one moment did I not believe that Daniel Kalyuua or LaKeith Standfield were unbelievable. Being a film about Hampton and O’Neal one would assume that the acting would be strong since this is a movie aimed at trying to tear apart the myths about how the Panthers were dangerous, King shows humanity to Hampton and the inner turmoil O’Neal felt during the film. The supporting cast themselves weigh in heavy adding more to the talent. Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson and Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell add more to the story, giving opposites of their perspectives. The actors make this movie function the way it does because of their commitment to bringing these people to life. The dedication is palpable and rare.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a rare Hollywood film. Not only is it a radical statement with Hampton’s words ringing true to today’s culture, but it is a story detailing how the state will kill you through their arbitrary means of justice. It speaks to the revolutionary in all of us. It wants us to organize, unionize, and make good of the life we are given. Shaka King strikes through a stark, clear image of the mistreatment of the Panthers by the State. King with The Black Messiah could start a bold new chapter in Hollywood with films of this caliber.

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