Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★½

My first film seen on HBO Max and damn, this was a great start! Still relevant today, this is about the charismatic chairman of the Chicago Black Panthers Fred Hampton who was shot in his sleep by the police and also the story of the black FBI informant Bill O'Neal who partially facilitated this.

With excellent period details, an intense jazz score and excellent direction by Shaka King (a director I didn't know at all), it really sends the viewer back to a turbulent and radical time in US history. I had forgotten the strong influence of Maoist and Cuban revolutionary/internationalist principles that the Panthers espoused, as well as their ideologically-informed framework for class and racial oppression and its liberation. But it's all here - not at all didactic but presented as lived history.

Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton gives one of the best performances I've seen this year. He deserves to be in contention for Best Actor in the upcoming awards ceremonies. He's passionate and principled, and it's easy to see how he could be the figurehead of a revolution - which is exactly why J. Edgar Hoover (played by Martin Sheen) was eager to have him eliminated. Lakeith Stanfield is also quite good as the conflicted informant, and my heart broke at different moments at the plight of Hampton's partner Deborah Johnson.

In my own political and religious beliefs, I remain a solid pacifist. But when you see the cards are so thoroughly stacked against people of color in the US, both then and now, it's impossible to judge the quest for armed resistance, especially when you see how those in power quickly resort to violence to crush any rebellion. The police and the military are usually the tools for this. So the film left me troubled and not so hopeful. But an excellent film and I hope it's widely seen.

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