Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★★★

Thematically and narratively, there’s significant overlap here with Jules Dassin’s 1968 landmark film, Uptight. In the skilled hands of Shaka King, the new film earns the right to be in dialogue with that forgotten masterpiece. Deftly balances kinetic sequences with weighty ruminations on activism, justice, struggle, and martyrdom; this is thoughtful and intelligent mid-budget studio filmmaking that is becoming all too increasingly rare in this day and age. Propulsive and engrossing, this is a searing work brimming with passion, sophistication, and style that speaks to the now (the murder of Breonna Taylor is impossible to ignore during the climatic police raid, a point the movie respectfully doesn’t belabor on). In offering a brief look at some of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operations, you can’t help but share in the film’s righteous anger over the fact that the KKK (or hell, even the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, or QAnon) have never received the level of scrutiny that these Civil Rights movements have. 

Sure, you could find a few things to pick apart - Martin Sheen’s make-up and performance feel like something out of a Lee Daniels film and as excellent as Kaluuya and Stanfield are, their casting slightly erases the fact the these real-life figures were just 21 and 20 at the time of the film’s climax. All the same, the fervor and brio amply displayed onscreen offsets any minor flaws found within. In terms of scope and execution, this historical drama on Black liberation comes closest to reaching the ambitious heights of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. An exceptional work that’s worthy of telling Chairman Fred Hampton’s story, King has gifted us with a movie that finally rises to meet the moment we’re in. Truly a modern classic.

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