Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★

Anywhere there's people, there's power.

#10 of Sundance 2021

If the issues and struggles in Shaka King's fiery re-animation of the final weeks of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton's life seem relevant to the state of the world today, when even a pandemic can't stop the killings of Black men and women, it is only because, for all the unbelievably hard-fought progress and for all the tangible victories made, there is one persistent thread in American history and that is the state's brutalization of Black people. Fred Hampton, much like the eloquent James Baldwin, and unlike the dual figures that stand at the center of the popular imagination's vision of the Civil Rights movement, is a lesser studied and lesser known figure. He is, again like Baldwin, a no less important leader than either of those men. Writer-director King, along with co-writer Will Berson, animate the final days of the life of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther Party. He is a brilliant orator with the cadence and rhythm of a revolutionary. Hampton, played here with intense conviction by Daniel Kaluuya, advocates for self-defense, socialized medicine, tuition-free college, union with the struggles of a rainbow coalition of oppressed working class folk, and adequate school lunches for young Black children. He is brutally assassinated in a police raid, after being drugged by an FBI informant, orchestrated by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The informant, Bill O'Neal (a beautifully conflicted and steely performance from LaKeith Stanfield), years later, regrets his actions. On the day a televised interview with O'Neal goes live January 15, 1990, O'Neal commits suicide by driving into oncoming traffic.

Full review coming to Talk Film Society soon.

But, this is a largely excellent film that animates the final days of Chairman Fred Hampton's life with an animated conviction. Both Kaluuya and Stanfield are tremendous, Kaluuya as the fiery revolutionary/Civil Rights leader Hampton, Stanfield as the FBI informant O'Neal. I wish the film were a bit more adventurous in its blocking and lighting, especially b/c there are hints of truly dynamic images here. But, it's hard to complain with such extraordinary performances at the center. Definitely one to look out for.

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