Director King makes good on his promise of telling Hampton’s story and the ideology of the BPP through a beautifully-shot tale
One of the things that ran through my mind watching the terrifically thrilling Judas and the Black Messiah was how young some of the players are in this horrific tragedy. Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, was only 21 when he was assassinated and Bill O’Neal, 17 when he was recruited by the FBI.
That is the age when a certain kind of person is in university, trying to change the world, rebelling without a pause against every injustice, perceived or true. The liberal thinker, who can afford to look at the world with the hope of fixing things through the prism of privilege.
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The film opens with O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) stealing cars posing to be an FBI officer. When Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) tells O’Neal, he can make all his charges go away if he (O’Neal) agrees to be an informant on BPP activities, he reluctantly agrees.
He infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the BPP where Hampton is building bridges with the rival gangs with his oratory as well as community outreach programs such as giving free breakfast for children. Violence begets violence with a BPP member being killed as he is being transported from hospital after having been shot by a police officer. The BPP retaliate with a shootout killing several officers. There is a shootout at the BPP office, which ends up being bombed by the police. Hampton is sent to prison for stealing $71 worth of ice-cream bars (!) and O’Neal rises up the ranks to become security captain.
Judas and the Black Messiah
- Director: Shaka King
- Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Martin Sheen
- Story line: An account of the betrayal of Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton
- Run time: 126 minutes
The FBI have another mole, who goes into different BPP offices seeking shelter, thus giving the FBI a chance to get a warrant and search the place. Released from prison, Hampton is identified as a threat and FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), orders Hampton’s assassination—what does the Bible say about old men’s dreams and young men’s visions? O’Neal is again coerced into drugging Hampton—not with a kiss as much as a drink.
The acting is incandescent. As Fred Hampton, Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya deserves the Golden Globe and every other award that comes his way. Another Get Out alum, Lakeith Stanfield, matches Kaluuya toe-to-toe as O’Neal torn between his loyalty, belief and self-preservation. Plemons as Mitchell brings the dilemma of the good man who tries to do the right thing when there isn’t one in sight. Dominique Fishback as Deborah, Hampton’s girlfriend and mother of his child is teasing, tough and tender while Martin Sheen as Hoover is downright creepy.
Judas and the Black Messiah fearlessly plunges into the alleyways that Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 steered clear of and is all the better for it. The dialogue is a razor-sharp mix of historical speeches and street smarts (when Mitchell asks O’Neal why he uses a badge to steal cars, O’Neal says, “A badge is like you got the whole army behind you.”)
Like Shaka King, making an assured feature film debut, says, the film is The Departed in the world of counterintelligence. King also makes good on his promise of telling Hampton’s story and the ideology of the BPP through an electrifying, beautifully-shot, lovingly-scored tale.
Judas and the Black Messiah is currently running in theatres