By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Based on the true story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the infiltration of the Chicago chapter of the party by FBI informant William O’Neal, writer/director Shaka King presents an all-too-real and dual-faceted example of our US government’s oppression of Black America. Out-spoken and unfiltered, the Black Panther party made its presence known and heard during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Though this perceived threat to “American” standards served as a rallying shout to fight systemic racism and oppression, the Black Panther Party and their associates only fought for equal treatment, as promised by the law and Constitution. The FBI then resorted to utilize informants fearful of any prejudicial treatment by law enforcement. One such informant was criminal William O’Neal.
Lakeith Stanfield stars as O’Neal, a small time crook caught in the nasty web of law enforcement and the FBI who wish to use him to take down the Black Panther party. Approached by agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemmons), O’Neal is given the ultimatum of complying with the FBI or face harsher treatment for his petty crimes. The main target of the FBI is Chicago chapter leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), a boisterous and charismatic Black Panther leader fighting hard for the advancement of the Black community. As O’Neal gets more involved with the Panther party and closer to Hampton, he becomes more conflicted with his role in the takedown of the activist.
Written by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas, and Keith Lucas, Judas and the Black Messiah is an amazingly powerful movie that should serve as an eye-opener to anyone who blindly accepts or naively denies the evil deeds of which our government is capable and has committed. For the oppressed and anyone who has experienced any form of prejudice, it is a rallying shout to stand up and fight for what is right and just. King, his writers, cast and crew do an outstanding job in presenting this tremendous story. Given the problems that have troubled our nation for far too long, this film also screams the question, when are things going to completely change for the better?
The film has an incredible cast with both Kaluuya and Stanfield bringing passion, emotion, and humanity to their characters. The movie also features a beautifully realized performance by Dominique Fishback who stars as Deborah Johnson, Fred Hampton’s girlfriend. Jesse Plemons also gives an appropriately nasty and uncaring turn as O’Neal’s ambitious FBI handler Roy Mitchell.
This is yet another movie that hopes to bring audiences more awareness of the racism and oppression that has infected our nation for far too long. I feel that I have written so many reviews about movies that tackle this subject. And I am sure it is a subject that other, more seasoned, veteran film writers have handled for decades before me. As I conclude this review, I have come to the sad realization that it is horrifying that we still need movies like Judas and the Black Messiah to keep reminding people that this is a problem that still troubles our country.