Judas and the Black Messiah tells another narrative, one that seeks to bring truth back to the Black Panthers and present them as a revolutionary organization ahead of its time.
They were fighting to gain equal rights for Black Americans, but there is also talk about socialism and the evils of capitalism. The shades of today’s activists compared to the Black Panthers in this film are nothing but subtle.
In the film, a white FBI officer, played by Jesse Plemons, equates the Black Panther party to the Ku Klux Klan. One organization burned crosses and lynched innocent black people, the other gave out food to their community.
The Black Panthers were not always peaceful, but the film makes the case that their violence was provoked by a police organization seething with racism that would do whatever it took to stop Black people from gaining power.
The film itself is a searing crime drama, full of great performances and heart-stopping moments, but the underlying feeling is that America is not much different today from what the Black Panthers faced in the 1960s.
The story revolves around Fred Hampton, the real-life chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party, played by Daniel Kaluuya, who is trading in his saddening eyes from his Oscar-nominated performance in Get Out to a blistering take on an activist who would take the country by storm.
If Hampton is the Black Messiah, then Judas is real-life FBI informant William O’Neal, a 17-year-old petty thief who became Hampton’s top security advisor, while helping law enforcement assassinate the revolutionary figure.
O’Neal is played by Lakeith Stanfield, and between his performance and Kaluuya’s, you can’t help but think we are watching some of the greatest actors of this modern era put on a show for the ages.
The weight of getting these characters right in a time where racial justice is at the forefront of every American’s mind was surely a daunting challenge, but in the hands of these actors, even moments that on paper would seem too much like Hollywood fanfare end up feeling like we’re actually in the room with these real-life characters.
When Kaluuya as Fred Hampton is roaring through a speech after he gets out of prison, Stanfield’s O’Neal raises his fist in the air knowing the police are watching him.
The tension is palpable, the stakes are high, and this uneasy feeling rips through every scene of the film.
It is a tragic story, but one that is important to be told. If we are going to have a Disney superhero be the only representation of the Black Panther party, then America is not getting the full picture.
And while this film is still a Hollywood take on real-life events, director Shaka King does one hell of a job bringing the truth to light.
The film does not shy away from hard-to-watch details. Hampton was 21 years old when he was shot and killed by the police while in bed with his pregnant fiancee. O’Neal ended up committing suicide for his role as an FBI informant.
The police may have killed Hampton to destroy the Black Panther party, but the movement is alive and well.
This summer saw some of the largest civil rights protests in American history in response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Law authorities wanted to silence Hampton, but in 2021 his story is being told and the truth is getting out there.
Judas and the Black Messiah is streaming now on HBOMax and playing in select theaters.