Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah ★★½

The story and real life characters portrayed in this film are far more interesting and complex as well as inspiring and entertaining to watch than they are in this often basic, reduced and very Hollywood version of the radical and luminary leftists of the Black Panther party, led by chairman Fred Hampton in Chicago. The story ping pongs back and forth between Hampton, often too sleepily played by Daniel Kaluuya, older by a decade than Hampton was when he was assassinated at the age of 21, and FBI informant Bill O'Neal, schizophrenically played by the usually great LaKeith Stanfield (also too old for the part). It's a surface primer of a few flashy events that took place during the time which are never fully represented enough to be meaningful but take away from the most interesting story of the internal conflict felt by O'Neal, or maybe felt by him, a young man arrested at 17 then exploited and coerced by the FBI to be an informant against Hampton. The racist establishment was terrified of the Panthers disrupting the status quo, even more so once the Rainbow Coalition was forged and used informants to infiltrate the groups. But what was in O'Neal's heart? What was his life like? Was he conflicted or did he actually believe in what he was doing as an informant, or as a Panther, or both? The most interesting glimpse is in the film's coda, a scene from the doc that was released in 1990 called Eyes on the Prize II, where the real O'Neal says, "I was part of the struggle. I wasn’t one of those armchair revolutionaries, at least I had a point of view put it on the line." He killed himself the night it aired. As the credits roll we wonder, what was his point of view, how did he feel about his role in the struggle? The previous 2+ hours left us with little clue. And while it's good that the near history isn't forgotten, I wonder who it serves to churn out a slick, watered down version of that history that further represses and distorts the truth.

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