Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★★

“Our job as The Black Panther Party is to heighten the contradictions.” // “Takes a thief to catch a thief.”

Ably teases several such contradictions—that there’s no bigger gang than law enforcement and the intelligence community; that these institutions will take your lukewarm “violence doesn’t solve anything” bullshit to the bank all day in maintenance of their monopoly; revolution as oriented toward securing life yet fraught with the threat of death; the seeming injustice that justice itself demands so damn much; etc.—but what’s sticking with me is a sense that the movie just doesn’t really believe what Fred and the Panthers do so much as it believes that their harrying and persecution are hypocritical and wrong (which, fuck yes). And so, rather than invited to share in the salient passion of an electric revolutionary, we're at arms length, watching the aggravation he and the Panthers endure without really tapping into the fundamental provocation they embody, more interested in what happens to Fred than in who he is, what he does, and why both are so incendiary; portraying the plain fact that there is struggle without getting too deeply into the how and why. As a result, Fred’s killing feels more like a generic, capricious injustice than a concerted act of war, the snuffing out of a person who simply also matters rather than the silencing of an essential dissident; murder rather than assassination. We're left with a generalized sense of sadness and anger, sure, but are given little sense of the elemental contradictions that demanded his death, the mutual exclusivity of white supremacist capitalism and black radical socialism; more satisfied with the suggestion that it didn't have to be this way than pressing the far more unsettling and damning question: Why did it have to be this way? Most unfortunate is that where Fred and the Panthers are concerned, it dutifully observes a dour procession to crucifixion, failing to deliver on the promise of its title: Resurrection.

Irregularly polished and yet no single scene stands out to my mind. Interesting to note that Malcolm X, Che, and Carlos all center on revolutionaries, all run well over three hours, and, in the case of the latter two, are broken into multiple parts. Especially considering the dovetailing Bill and Fred stories, I think this needed a similar treatment. We need the time and space to enter into a world wholly different from the one we have, we do need the contradictions heightened. That, and while I operate under no illusion that, for instance, Soderbergh shares much with Che Guevara in terms of political outlook, he was certainly able to at least make a movie that believes in him. You know Spike pulled it off.

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