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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Judas and the Black Messiah (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023


Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, Martin Sheen, Jermaine Fowler, Dominique Thorne, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill, Amari Cheatom, Caleb Eberhardt and Mark Francis.

Screenplay by Will Berson and Shaka King.

Directed by Shaka King.

Distributed by Warner Brothers. 126 minutes. Rated R.

The Black Panther party was one of the most misunderstood and vilified groups in American history. Their detractors said that they were a heavily armed militia made up of scary black men in dashikis. And while, yes, they were armed, there was much more to them than that.

Like Black Lives Matter, The Black Panthers were created as a response to police brutality against blacks. Originally formed in 1966 in Oakland by political activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seales, the group was founded as a community service, offering many programs including free breakfast for poor children, women’s rights, financial counseling, drug & alcohol counseling, employment referral, free ambulances, clothing drives and many other worthy causes.

Known for their strikingly cool “uniforms” (black leather jackets, berets, sunglasses, and large afros), the Panthers also was a sort of guardian angel watchdog group – policing the police, so to speak. If a black person was arrested the Panthers would show up with rifles, silent witnesses to be sure that the officers did not overstep their legal authority into harassment or abuse. The Panthers took their name, Newton said, because the panther is an animal which will watch and back away to a point when confronted but would attack if cornered.

They were not all good and they were not all evil, like any organization which is made up of disparate people with diverse motivations, needs and styles. The leaders of the Panthers – mainly the two founders Newton and Seale, and prominent later members Eldridge Cleaver and Fred Hampton – all had very different views of the Panthers and their role in the community.

Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of Fred Hampton, as played by Daniel Kaluuya. Hampton was a natural leader and a terrific public speaker who quickly became beloved in the Chicago chapter. And at only 21 years old.

Now, truth is I was familiar with the Fred Hampton story, so I did know where the movie was going. However, I won’t say what happened so that those of you who do not know about it will be surprised.

Fred Hampton was also exceedingly charismatic, he came up through the ranks of the party to front the Chicago chapter, and as much as everyone else Hampton was responsible for getting the word out. A silver-tongued orator with a patter like a preacher, he was considered so dangerous that members the Chicago Police Department and the FBI (led by J. Edgar Hoover, played by Martin Sheen in almost unrecognizable makeup) decided that Fred Hampton was public enemy number one, keeping a careful eye on Hampton.

The Judas in this film is Bill O’Brien (Lakeith Stanfield), a small-time car thief who was pressured by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther party and report back on the chapter, and specifically on Hampton (who needless to say is the black messiah of the title).

As he gets to know the members of the party, O’Brien starts to appreciate the good work that Hampton and the Panthers are doing for their area. At the same time, the FBI (specifically a local agent played by Jesse Plemons) pressure O’Brien to get more and more questionable info about Hampton, causing him to be torn about his loyalties. It’s only a matter of time before there is an explosion.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a fascinating look at a somewhat forgotten piece of American history.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: February 12, 2021.


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