Chairman Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was assassinated by the FBI, who coerced a petty criminal named William O’Neal to help them silence him and the Black Panther Party. But they could not kill Fred Hampton’s legacy and, 50 years later, his words still echo…louder than ever. Judas and the Black Messiah stars Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out,” “Widows,” “Black Panther”) as Fred Hampton and LaKeith Stanfield (TV’s “Atlanta,” “Sorry to Bother You”) as William O’Neal.
Judas and the Black Messiah Trailer:
First of all, I loved the introduction to Judas And The Black Messiah. Director Shaka King made a smart decision to splice real footage from the time (almost in a documentary style) to illustrate that sentiment of the time. It was a perfect contrast to also the perception of the group of the time by not just some of White America, but more importantly the government agencies that mistaken them to be a terrorist organization. Director Shaka King did a nice job of using these dynamics throughout the film to also illustrate the modern parallels of worldviews that still exist today.
You can also see more of the contrast through the two main characters and the story itself. From the title we already know that there’s a direct correlation being made to the biblical story of Judas and Jesus Christ. The way this film was able to adapt and align the two stories and figures was fascinating. The theme of betrayal and the fight for justice and peace were certainly intriguing to see come to a clash.
I think the biggest and most obvious standout for Judas and the Black Messiah is the performance from Daniel Kaluuya. He was captivating from the moment he got on screen to the end of the film. It’s almost a shame that he’s pegged as the supporting character in the film because he certainly steals the scene every single time. The best part of his acting here is the amount of passion he puts in his speeches and the level of commitment Kaluuya put into transforming himself into Hampton. From his voice, the charisma, or his mannerisms, he totally sells you the idea that he is indeed Fred Hampton. Above everything else, Kaluuya humanized Fred Hampton to bring him to a point where you can’t help but to sympathize not only for him, but also his righteous cause for peace and unity between all races.
Given the basic premise of betrayal in this film, one of the other highlights are the pockets of suspense that are built up in various scenes. You’ll have a number of scenes where the big secret may (or may not) be revealed with Stanfield’s character, and each time you can’t help but to pay more attention. One scene that comes to mind is when the Panthers had their interaction with a local gang. The fact that you start to feel the same level of tension as the characters on screen at the time is just a testament of good storytelling.
If I’m going to do some small nitpicking, then I suppose one thing that stood out to me was Stanfield’s acting in certain moments. I thought he over-acted in a few scenes trying to overplay the fact that he was nervous while deceiving others. What was odd about this was that it just felt a bit extra because we already know his true intentions. Yet, the way he acted in some scenes felt almost like a TV sitcom actor trying not to blow his cover. So either, the real life William O’Neal was a terrible actor in real life when he was undercover with the Panthers, or Stanfield needed to dial things back a bit. I’m inclined to believe the latter. Let me reiterate that this is a nitpick because I do think that Stanfield does a solid job overall.
Outside of that, the only other minor issue I had was in some of the depictions of the Black Panthers. There were about two scenes that showed the members in some compromising positions. I’m specifically thinking of Algee Smith’s character’s scene. (You’ll definitely know it when you see it.) Now if those events transpired as they were played, then this is a moot point. If they were included for creative purposes, then my concern is how it may distract some viewers from who/what the Panthers were actually about. I just thought that those scenes didn’t need to be seen. I think it would’ve carried a bit more weight if those scenes were mentioned in the movie, and allow the characters to simply react to the news.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a bold and unapologetic drama that amplifies the life and mission of the late Fred Hampton. If it’s goal was to uplift Fred Hampton and his revolutionary message of the time, then it won that battle without a doubt. I’m hesitant to call this “timely”, not because it actually is, but because movies like this always seem to be timely. The fight for racial and class justice is nothing new and ever consistent. It’s the same story over and over again, and it’s evident from the fact that this story has such stark parallels to a biblical story from over 2000 years ago.
Let me just say the obvious, and that is Daniel Kaluuya just jumped to the top of the list for the Best Supporting Actor award category. He really dug into this role and that is going to be the brightest light for many in this film. I think Kaluuya, and the film overall, demonstrated some much needed depictions of the group that run contrary to what modern day political talking heads paint them out to be. Kaluuya had me out here feeling like a revolutionary right along with the folks in the movie.
While I wouldn’t say Judas And The Black Messiah should be viewed as a historical resource, I do believe it should be an inspiration to learn more about the Black Panther Party. After watching the film, I went back to go watch the “Eyes on the Prize” documentary that featured William O’Neal. I’ll say that it felt kind of odd to see his demeanor be radically more indifferent and uncaring than how Stanfield portrayed him in the movie. I guess that’s where the creative license factors into movie making, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit when it’s based on real life events and people. Either way, I’d definitely recommend Judas And The Black Messiah when it becomes available in theaters and on HBO Max.
Director: Shaka King
Writers: Will Berson, Shaka King
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons
Judas And The Black Messiah will be available in theaters and HBO streaming platforms February 12, 2021. Be sure to follow E-Man’s Movie Reviews on Facebook, Subscribe on YouTube, or follow me on Twitter/IG @EmansReviews for even more movie news and reviews!
- Acting - 9/109/10
- Cinematography - 7/107/10
- Plot/Screenplay - 8/108/10
- Setting/Theme - 8/108/10
- Buyability - 9/109/10
- Recyclability - 7/107/10