Judas and the Black Messiah

Watch it and The Trial of the Chicago 7.  Movies are never better than when they embrace recent history.

Judas and the Black Messiah

As demonstrated with the police killing of George Floyd, racism is alive and well in our country. With Judas and the Black Messiah, director Shaka King brings to the big screen the turbulent 1960’s in Chicago following the death of Martin Luther King.

In summary fashion, the film tells the story of William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) who, after a plea deal, infiltrates the Chicago Black Panther party.  The purpose was to gain access to party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

As the conflicted O’Neal, Stanfield embraces his brilliant performances in Knives Out (2019), Sorry to Bother You (2018), and Get Out (2017). Here he is an intelligent thief caught by the F.B.I. and force to cooperate to avoid prison.  Watch his agony as he is forced to put a man’s head on the F.B. I.’s chopping block that he has come to admire.

Before going further, let me also point out Jesse Plemons’ compelling role as F.B.I. Agent Roy Mitchell and Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover.  You quickly learned all you needed to know about Mitchell when he compared the Black Panthers to the Ku Klux Klan. And Hoover’s racism surfaced when he demanded to know what Mitchell would say to his 8 month-old daughter if she came home with a black date.

But it was Kaluuya’s role as Hampton that defined the film.  Just as he demonstrated in a series of great films like Get Out (2017), Black Panther and Widows (2018) and Queen and Slim (2019), his emotional range rivals any actor working today.

Here, he embraces the dual role of leading a revolutionary organization that armed all of his followers while simultaneously fighting to feed the poor.  Though he loved his caring, pregnant wife Deborah (Dominque Fishback – and she was memorable), he knew that death waited around every corner.

It is no secret that the Chicago Police Department was a violent racist organization at that time as demonstrated in this film. You expected their motto to be “The only good Black Panther is a dead Black Panther.”

This is a brilliant film filled with sorrow.  I am thankful that after receiving my second vaccine shot that I was able to get back into the theatre and experience a movie of this magnitude.

Let me simply say that I embrace the opportunity to sit in a dark theatre with strangers as I prepare to watch an intriguing film. The old “normal” is slowly returning to our country.