Judas and The Black Messiah proudly displays Black liberation movement

Judas and The Black Messiah proudly displays Black liberation movement

Christmaelle Vernet, Staff Writer

Powerhouse film, Judas and The Black Messiah takes viewers back to the late 1960s after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. During one of the highest points of racial tension in America, the plot narrows in on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther party more specifically, its chairman, 21-year-old Black revolutionary Fred Hampton and the man who is meant to leak his plans to the Feds. After being caught impersonating a Federal police officer and stealing a car, William ‘Bill’ O’Neal is assigned by the FBI in a plea deal to infiltrate the Black Panther party and get close to Hampton to prevent him [Hampton] from becoming ‘The Black Messiah’. He agrees because it would mean he would get out of an over five-year prison sentence for his crimes. The film’s main focus is O’Neal’s journey as a spy informant for the FBI and collecting information from the Black Panthers. 

At first glance, I found the film highly ironic. Profiting off a film about a man who strongly disapproved of capitalism seemed a bit off-putting at first. Watching the trailer, I believed the movie would have focused more on the late activist Hampton and his life/work. But the film was focused more on O’Neal’s character, and it seemed to make the viewers want to sympathize with him for the majority of the movie. I think the movie should have been more focused on Hampton, and his work and beliefs rather than someone who essentially destroyed the Black Panther Party. 

One thing I did find impressive was the representation. Seeing so many different shades of black, and big 4C afros was very refreshing to watch. I also liked how they portrayed the Illinois chapter of the Panthers. My greatest fear before watching this movie was how they would present the Black Panther Party. Since it is a topic many aren’t taught about in school it could lead to misconceptions of what the party stood for. I was highly pleased to see the movie portrayed the party as a group of anti-capitalist revolutionary thinkers who believed in the liberation and reconstruction of the black community through things like education, free healthcare, providing food for their neighborhoods, and revolution (confronting the issue of systemic racism head-on). 

I found this movie pretty hard to watch, as  I don’t do well with movies about Black trauma. The suspense of wondering if O’neal would ever be caught had me on the edge of my seat at every moment. I think the movie does a great job of introducing a part of history that is often overlooked. During lessons on Black history in school, we are often not taught about the aftermath of MLK’s assassination on the Black community. Judas and The Black Messiah is a great introduction to the Black Liberation movement of the late 1960s to ‘70s.

 As expected, Daniel Kaluuya turned in a fantastic performance. He embodied Hampton’s character almost perfectly, winning a Golden Globe and a Critics Choice award for best supporting actor. I think they did a good job at naturally incorporating 70’s lingo without overdoing it. There was great attention to details as well, such as the outfits and other groups involved in the plot. The other characters were also very well cast. The movie is called Judas and The Black Messiah because like Judas in the bible turned on Jesus for his own personal gain, O’Neal turns on Hampton for his own obtainments.  I was also pleased to hear Fred Hampton’s significant other and son sat on set while the movie was being filmed, so there was a true intention to make his story as accurate as possible. 

Overall, this was a great film. I think it is worth checking out, especially for anyone interested in that aspect of history. It is a difficult watch due to the violent and intense nature of the plot alongside the frustrating aspects of discrimination, but I think everyone could truly learn something from it.