Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

The concept of a "the last days of figure X" isn't a new angle for a story and in that sense this felt very familiar and not particularly striking as a take. What's even more troubling is that the story takes a supremely interesting figure in Fred Hampton and makes him secondary. The snitch is the protagonist and we spend a significant time with him and the fed he interacts with just as we get a lot of time spent with the fed interacting with other feds. This is bothersome because it gives so much narrative importance to the worst figures in the story that it kind of ends up short changing Hampton. We get the acknowledgment of his politics and views and attitudes in the beginning, but quickly the story becomes about his final days and how his story ended and I can't say I'm a fan of the angle.

Imagine for a second that a story about someone like Hampton focused on the part of his life that was all about community building and it showed him triumph as it centered the narrative around a part of his life where he succeeded. That would give him more gravitas as a person and it would be more interesting of a story as it would make it about him and it would be about who he was. That would take away the power from the powerful as the narrative wouldn't center on them, they don't care if you portray them as unsympathetic and if they look bad, they won and by retelling a story about their victory, you're reinforcing that victory because if the only messaging that people get fed is of the struggle and setbacks then why even try?

I watched Steve McQueen's Small Axe series recently and I feel like that nailed a message that this movie and others like this don't: hope. Each of the stories in the series were brutally honest when it came to the injustices of the racist world, but none of them felt pessimistic or cynical, all of them more or less had a strong message about hope even though it's undoubtedly a challenge. One must push ahead regardless of anything because what's the point otherwise?

My problems with the movie, while crucial, are also largely just disagreement in vision. The movie tells the story it wants to tell and it tells it rather fantastically. The direction is visually exciting and the central performances from Kaluuya, Stanfield and Plemons are amazing. I'd be shocked if the two leads both weren't nominated. Another stand out was the score which hit all the right notes when it came to the tone of the scenes.

Regardless of me wanting a different narrative angle, I still did enjoy the movie and I do genuinely think it's one of the highlights of the year.