By Sam Bennett
“Judas and the Black Messiah”, directed by Shaka King, follows FBI informant William O’Neal as he infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary group that set out to change the racial, social, and even economic status quos in America. For this reason, as well as their use of violence, the United States government sought to get inside knowledge on the Black Panthers, and attempt to destroy them. This movie has been described as possibly the most radical film ever produced in Hollywood, and for good reason. It challenges the status quos itself, setting the audience against the government and police officers, and making us sympathize with ideals that many do not agree with. One of the main reasons for this sympathy is the excellent performance of Daniel Kaluuya as the charismatic and powerful Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers. We see his ability to bring oppressed people together, as well as his relationship with Deborah Johnson, played by Dominique Fishback, who carries many of the film’s most emotional scenes.
The main character in the film is the FBI informant, William O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, who successfully infiltrates the ranks of the Black Panther party under risk of years in prison for impersonating a federal agent in an attempt to steal a car. While he is the main character, he is not exactly the most sympathetic one, acting with self interest in most if not all situations. Saying this however does not mean Stanfield didn’t deliver a great performance, because he certainly did. Another main character, as stated before, is Deborah Johnson, the partner of Fred Hampton. Her portrayer, Dominique Fishback, does an extraordinary job conveying her mixed emotions throughout the movie, as she wants to fight for the Black Panthers, but also wants to see Hampton be safe. But the most impressive performance, possibly of the year, is undoubtedly from Fred Hampton himself, Daniel Kaluuya. Whenever he is on screen, he demands the audience’s attention. When he is reserved, he plays it perfectly. But the most impressive parts of his performance are definitely his rousing speeches, which not only inspired the audiences back in the 1960s, but the audience of the movie today.
The most impressive thing about the overall movie to me was its ability to turn us against the government with such ease. We see the sliminess and racism of the FBI, which pushes us towards the Black Panthers, who themselves are morally ambiguous. Yet, they are fighting for a good cause, equality, which makes us side with them. Another small part of the movie that made it that much better was the cinematography. The way scenes were shot was beautiful in parts, heightened tension in others, and overall increased the quality of the film.
In parting, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is an extremely riveting film with great importance, especially in this day in age, where racial discrimination is at the forefront of America’s struggles once again. In my opinion, this film should be widely considered for almost every award, and walk away with quite a few.
Where to watch: HBO Max