SYNOPSIS: Judas and the Black Messiah is the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and his fateful betrayal by FBI informant, William O’Neal (LaKeith Standfield).
You may say it’s too early to say Judas and the Black Messiah is the best film this year given it’s only February, but damn this film is amazing! Usually, biopic films that take place during the civil rights movement and slavery uprising are too frustrating to watch but this film was well put together from the acting to directing. From the soundtrack to the 70’s aspect ratio style in the first act, the film pays homepage to the 70’s genre of film.
“ I AM A REVOLUTIONARY, I AM A REVOLUTIONARY!”
I’ve read the history books and heard some of the speeches by Fred Hampton. I must say, Daniel Kaluuya captured the essence of the activist. His presence in Judas and the Black Messiah is so powerful that even those on set have stated they believed Fred Hampton’s spirit was in the room. During the Sundance Q&A, Kaluuya talked about how he was losing his voice but the crowd was into his portrayal and yelling “I am revolutionary!” that he was able to push through and portray some powerful speeches.
The best chemistry in the film was between Kaluuay and Dominique Fishback. Fishback’s portrayal of Deborah Johnson aka Akua Njeri provided the confidence and magnified the articulation of the Fred Hampton character. She also provided a space of vulnerability for him. Fishback’s talent in spoken word is displayed in this film as she wrote and read her work throughout the film. The two most touching poems were read around act two where she describes the love she has for Hampton and the other is in act three where she questions motherhood after Hampton’s release. Fishback explained during the Q&A that director Shaka King allowed her to show the character’s creativity on screen.
The love remains but there’s a shift in the relationship of both Hampton and Johnson in the third act, as Hampton’s imprisonment and activism cause him to become more dedicated to the cause. I really felt the connection between the two and I loved Fishback’s performance even more. The ending where she held back her tears and her composure combined with the camera angle was dope! I hope she gets some Oscar buzz.
It’s not easy writing characters like Roy Mitchell but Shaka King does a great job turning this protagonist into a compelling and conflicted character. At times, he is just as conflicted as his informant O’Neal. Especially in the scene where J. Edgar Hoover questions Mitchell on what he was going to do when his daughter brought home a “nigger”. You could see the initial equivocation in his response.
LaKeith Standfield kept the tension during the whole movie. From when his position was almost compromised after an FBI mole was tortured by the Panthers to him almost getting shot during a shoot out with the police. He basically shifts into paranoia and identity crisis as his portrayal of O’Neal reminded me of how desperate the character was. I often forget that O’Neal was so young and easy to influence. His interaction with Hampton reminded me of films like In Too Deep because O’Neal was able to see the good in Hampton’s efforts and the evil in the actions of the FBI.
It was too crazy to see that O’Neal died shortly after the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” premiered. The documentary featured O’Neal talking about the guilt and struggle he faced after the murder of Hampton.
I like the fact that Judas and the Black Messiah showed how the Panthers did things and provided services to the community. Hampton’s desire to build with the underrepresented community no matter the color was good to see on film.
Judas and the Black Messiah Summit
Shortly after the premiere of the film at Sundance, Warner Bros. put together an all-day virtual summit featuring the artist and actors from the film. One of my favorites is the conversation between Dominique Fishback and Akua Njeri. The summit also featured LaKeith Standfield, Daniel Kaluuya, and Fred Hampton Jr.
See the Movie!!!
Overall Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the best films you will see on HBO Max and in theaters this year. You will not be disappointed like I was after I watched The Little Things. Sorry y’all, Denzel is still the GOAT when it comes to acting but I’d rather eat a dry PopEye’s biscuit than try to watch that film again. Tune into HBO Max this Friday and check out this great film!