Movie Review – Judas and the Black Messiah – Absolutely Brilliant!
My Rating – 4.5 out of 5
Plot Summary – Judas and the Black Messiah
This film is another one from the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement – set specifically in 1968-1969, which delves into characters and incidents from those tumultuous times of American history. On one hand, the Vietnam war was consuming American lives and on the other, the social upheavals caused by an overwhelming resistance to Racism were shaping up to introduce sweeping changes – to how white America looked upon African Americans and their rights or lack thereof.
Around the time of Dr. Martin Luther King‘s ascension as the preeminent voice against racial prejudices, the Black Panther Party was formed primarily to open-carry arms and watch law enforcement officers so that they could not indulge in armed excesses against the colored citizenry. They slowly developed into a socially conscious organization – organizing Free Breakfast for Children and community health clinics for educating and treating certain diseases. It is around this time, that Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya) came into prominence.
Fred Hampton: Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshedDaniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah
Fred Hampton, a charismatic and impressive persona, became the Chairman of the BPP’s Chicago chapter and with the charm of a royal Lion goes about enforcing the party’s hold over the colored population, while recruiting more and more members for the Party’s cause. By this time, the FBI had earmarked the BPP as a domestic terrorist organization (under the then-Director J. Edgar Hoover) who went out of his way to project any anti-racist movement of the time as a threat to national security and did everything he could to maintain the racial inequalities and discrimination of the time, going.
During all the subversive efforts of the US government and its Agencies, most efforts were directed at having moles in these organizations, including a few at the BPP. Related to this movie, FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) recruits petty criminal William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) by holding avoidance of jail time over his head to act as an informant. O’Neal’s responsibility is to get into the BPP and ingratiate himself to Fred Hampton. Eventually, that leads to the tragic events that unfolded on that fateful day of December 4, 1969, set up by O’Neal.
Conclusion – Movie Review of Judas and the Black Messiah
Powerful performances all around, but Daniel Kaluuya stands out with his brilliant portrayal of Fred Hampton. Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, who plays Fred’s love interest in the movie, is another powerhouse performer and most times looks more comfortable and assured than Daniel, mixing charm, grace and steel with delectable ease. Looking back at the events of 55-60 years ago, one keeps wondering how difficult life could be under the shackles of constant discrimination and social injustice. It exists even today, implicit but omnipresent, as a permanent blotch on humanity.
A special mention for the director Shaka King for bringing this painful slice of American history to the silver screen, and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography – which is simply breathtaking, and other characters who have played significant parts with such elan. There are moments that bring tears to your eyes or those that make one bristle with anger at the impunity with which lawmakers look at racism. But a systemic change is not happening anytime soon, however much of a decline one witnesses in the level today. This is a must-watch, maybe even more than once for the brilliance to sink-in in its entirety!