February 11, 2021

GENRE | Black (Power) History Month – 'Judas and the Black Messiah'

"You can't murder liberation!"
Daniel Kaluuya Shaka King | Judas and the Black Messiah
Warner Bros. Pictures / Macro Media
Director Shaka King heads back to 1960s Chicago for his biographical drama of betrayal, Judas and the Black Messiah. Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield as chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party Fred Hampton and FBI informant William O'Neal, both are absolutely electrifying in their magnetic portrayals of key African-American figures brought down by white supremacist structures of the FBI.

Produced by Ryan Coogler, this is a vital film of social unrest retelling a pivotal moment of Black history in America. King defly puts the organization of the so-called radical Black left and factions of power into an entertaining yet enlightening cultural context through searing monologues of upheaval and uprising. It's an impressive accomplishment of historical storifying as dramatic art.

Outside of the two duelling dynamic performances of activism and turmoil, the ensemble cast is littered with sparkling supporting performances. A smarmy Jesse Plemons as O'Neal's manipulative FBI handler drips off the screen just as Martin Sheen hams it up as the corrupting force of J. Edgar Hoover. Dominique Fishback is also soulful and a centering presence as Hampton's romantic partner and supporter (future activist Akua Njeri).

Lakeith Stanfield Jesse Plemons Shaka King | Judas and the Black Messiah

King and co-writer Will Berson's script focuses on the relative back and forth between Hampton and O'Neal as the mentor and mentee figures injected with the double agent traitor infiltration aspect (think The Departed). It's a taught thriller in its Shakespearean drama. There's a cleverly executed craft and artistry to the film as it turns complicated political history and violence into a cat and mouse crime thriller.

King's historical adaptation of real-life events feels like an essential interpretation of Black history and white supremacy. Judas and the Black Messiah is a searing portrait of the African-American left coming together for the Black nationalist movement before being targeted to be ripped apart to ensure the racist American capitalist structures were kept intact to continue benefiting from the suffering of the oppressed.

Judas and the Black Messiah is available to stream on various digital platforms and through video on demand in Canada.

More | YVArcade / AV Club / Indiewire / Vox

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