Sunday, March 21, 2021

Stubs - Judas and the Black Messiah

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Martin Sheen. Directed by Shaka King. Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King. Produced by Charles D. King, Ryan Coogler, Shaka King. USA Color Run time: 126 minutes. Biography, Drama.

The effect of COVID is still being felt well into 2021. While movie theaters may be opening up again, there is no film that would be worth risking my life to see. Say what you will about Warner Bros. and their day and date releases on HBO Max but that very well may be how I watch movies for months to come. That is how I was able to watch Judas and The Black Messiah, my first new film of the year, even though it was recently nominated for Awards based on its initially planned release last year.

Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) was a very charismatic man.

Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, and an FBI informant, William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield).

Hampton was a dynamic young man, only 21 when he died, who wanted to raise up Black people by providing things like free breakfasts to neighborhood children. For their free meal, they also appeared to receive lectures from Hampton and his followers spouting their own brand of propaganda against the White-led society they felt was holding them down; and they weren’t wrong about that.

FBI informant, William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) and
his FBI contact 
Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons).

Based on what you see in the film, the establishment, symbolized by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), wanted to keep Hampton from becoming a Messiah for his people and struggle. O’Neal, a young car thief who pretended to be an FBI agent, trades prison time for the unenviable job of playing Judas as he rats on Hampton to FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons).

It was interesting to have seen the film so soon after seeing The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020), since Fred Hampton (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is also portrayed in that film as well. The films are both testaments to how the establishment dealt with people who challenged their authority but also dovetail with each other.

I’m not sure how I feel about everything Fred Hampton or the Black Panthers stood for but I have to say he comes across as very charismatic and someone who could speak to anyone, as he brings not only gang members but also White Supremacists into his “rainbow” coalition for change. Daniel Kaluuya gives a compelling performance as Hampton.

Lakeith Stanfield also gives a strong performance as the FBI informant who starts to hate his job. Not sure how much he identified with the goals of the Black Panthers but he had to be drawn in by Hampton’s charisma and trust.

Dominique Fishback (c) as Deborah Johnson, the woman in Hampton's life.

All of the supporting actors give good performances, including Jesse Plemons, and Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend. Martin Sheen also deserves credit for his performance as Hoover, making him out to the vile man and bigot that he was.

The film illustrates that the struggle that Blacks are going through today is part of a continuation of events. During the 1960s, their issues, like today, were one of several the nation was dealing with at the same time and while some progress was made, there is still so much left to be done.

While I believe the events are true, I’m not sure how much poetic license has been taken, similar to Trial, however, that doesn’t take away from the power of the movie. The recent nominations are well-deserved and while it is not a fun movie to watch it is an important one that should be seen.

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