“The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to national security. More than the Chinese, even more than the Russians. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a black messiah from among their midst –” says J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, at the start of “Judas and the Black Messiah.”
On Mar. 3rd of 1989, former member of the Black Panther Party, Bill O’Neal, was interviewed for “Eyes on the Prize 2,” a documentary series covering the civil rights movements in America. “Judas and the Black Messiah” begins and ends with actor LaKeith Stanfield as Bill O’Neal fidgeting nervously through the historic interview. He is asked about his regrets and decisions made in the tumultuous year of 1969.
This film covers the story of Fred Hampton, played by “Get Out” actor Daniel Kaluuya, and the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton became a prominent figure in Chicago as he assumed the title of the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and was carefully watched by the FBI because he was seen as a potential threat to national security. Through the amplification of prominent voices fighting for Black liberation and class consciousness in the 70s, such Angela Davis and Malcolm X, “Judas and the Black Messiah” brings to life the struggle and power of such groups and organizations. The montages of authentic footage intertwined in the film are an element that fits perfectly. The script and film altogether really takes you to Chicago 1969, and when the real footage is shown, you can barely differentiate between the movie between the historical footage.
Both Kaluuya and Stanfield delivered Oscar-worthy performances. Kaluuya’s incredibly powerful acting paired with Stanfield’s accurate portrayal of a nervous, paranoid traitor work tremendously together. Director of the historical drama, Shaka King, beautifully delivers a film that is both telling of the past and important in this moment in time. The script felt natural while also thunderous in its message, with lots of “comrades” here and there.
I would absolutely recommend everyone to watch this movie. It importantly tells the story of one of the many leaders in the continuous fight for Black liberation that are all too often swept under the rug in American history.
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