There is a line in Judas and the Black Messiah, where an FBI Agent says, “I’m all for civil rights, but you can’t cheat your way to equality. And you certainly can’t shoot your way to it.” This film isn’t about it. It is about the hypocrisy of the government to suppress those who use powerful and just words. It is about being a nice talker of civil rights and then becoming a political tyrant, using aggression, force, and arms against those over whom you can’t have control. It is about the assassination of Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Black Panther Party of Illinois chapter.
Daniel Kaluuya steals your heart and captivates your soul through his powerful speeches in a screenplay written by Shaka King and Will Berson, where Shaka King holds the director’s seat as well.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a simple narrative but incorporates outstanding performances and adrenaline-injecting scenes. On an exterior layer, it is about a rat, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) plotted in Black Panther Party by the FBI in the year 1968, to gather evidence against their rising Black Messiah, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). But if you are a conscious human being, and politically aware, Judas and the Black Messiah is much more than that.
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Fred Hampton – A Poetic and A Philistic Revolutionary
Fred Hampton believes a rebellion is not fought with arms or nukes, it is fought with people. “There is strength in numbers, power anywhere where there’s people.” And in order to overthrow fascism and racism, it is going to take people not arms. Fred Hampton provoked his people to fight against the government in numbers, but not with terror. In Judas and the Black Messiah, his first speech in Malcolm X college was of an extremist but after the speech, Deborah Johnson tells Hampton that he is a poet. In the very next scene, he tells his fellow mates that neither nukes nor rocket launchers are going to win the war against tyranny but the will of his own people.
Hampton’s pursuit changes into educating people that the violence of police against black people is not normal. The officers stopping any black man and putting a gun on his forehead is not normal. The anomaly in the police system while treating black people, is not normal. He educates the kids in school and his people through newspapers and journals so that they can decide for themselves whether they want to overthrow the government or not.
The film is a celebration of many such strong speeches made by Fred Hampton as he evolves to become a better rebel. If you plot the graph, he thrives with each speech he makes. He becomes better and better and Daniel Kaluuya just aces that performance graph. He is inviting, bewitching, and inspiring. His performance in Judas and the Black Messiah is mind-blowing. He starts as a loud man and later becomes convinced that his actions should be louder.
Now, it is very hard to perceive the character of Fred on a moral and ethical scale, because on stage while making a speech, he supports violence but off stage, he isn’t overpowered by the same morals. Maybe, his anger, stage presence, and the drive of a revolution make him say things that appeared to be of extremist nature.
No Smoke Without Fire
You might have to play dirty when you are playing with dirty people. Fred was neither King nor Gandhi. The ideas were provocative and had ideals like Malcolm X and Che Guevara. In the film, when the FBI placed their informant William O’Neal in Black Panther Party, his motive was to stop Fred. Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), O’Neal’s FBI handler, at first talked about using civil rights to approach equality. But later, when his superior asks him that will he be happy to see his grown-up daughter with a black man, Roy not only fails to answer but his face spells unacceptance. The point being, you don’t end inequality with civil rights but by changing one’s mindset. In the beginning, words of Fred sounded violent but later looking at the way the FBI was handling things and black people, Fred’s words sounded realistic and practical. That is why Judas and the Black Messiah has a very powerful narrative. It completely changes your perception about law and lawmakers and the revolution and revolutionaries.
Roy Mitchell says that Black Panther and KKK are the same because they inspire terror. Ironically, the FBI and Roy use the same terror to assassinate a drugged Fred. Fred was given a sleep drug by FBI rat O’Neal and murdered in his sleep with many other Black Panther activists. The film is a symbol of how the executor of civil rights crushed their own ideals to overcome a liberator.
Party is about the People
Fred Hampton’s philosophy segregates an individual from his ideals. Fred said his thoughts about liberation will continue, even if he perishes and that’s the kind of life he lived.
In the end, the Supreme Court denied Fred’s appeal, and he back to Menard. The Chief of the “The Crown” hands Fred a bundle of dollars to run away. Fred returns the wad, requesting them to open a medical clinic with this money, and tells them that he will better be in prison for 5 years. With that money, they could save a lot of people, and Fred wants that to happen. Even in his absence, his actions will fight the battle. That was Fred for you in the end. That was the legacy he left behind.
“We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere, but when I leave, you can remember what I said, that I am a revolutionary. I am a proletariat. I am the people.”
William O’Neal who ratted on Fred Hampton thought he did it for the right cause, but mostly he was saving his own freedom. He stole cars and impersonated an FBI agent but he didn’t want to end up in jail, he had his selfish reasons. When his first and only on-screen interview for the docu-series, “Eyes on the Prize 2” came out, O’Neal committed suicide the day after. It symbolizes that he was conscious of his wrongdoings since always. No matter how much one tries to justify, he can’t run away from the past.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a film that works on many layers. It is a perceptual narrative and most of the takeaway depends on how you see it. The only sure shot statement is to say, Daniel Kaluuya gave the most electrifying performance of the year. All his speeches are mind-blowing. If you are looking for some substantial social-political drama, please don’t miss this film. Shaka King has offered his blood, toil, tears, and sweat and each frame reflects that very zeal.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a 2021 Drama Biopic Film directed by Shaka King. It is streaming on HBO MAX.
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