Power to revolutionaries everywhere

“Judas and the Black Messiah”: jarring brilliance

Annie Symons, Staff Reporter

At just 21 years of age, Fred Hampton was assassinated in his own home in the middle of the night by members of the Chicago police department. He acted as the Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party (BPP) until his death in 1969. 52 years later, the big screen serves as a platform for his story.

With his 2021 biographical drama “Judas and the Black Messiah”, director Shaka King breathes new life into a story about brotherhood, love, morality, corruption, and heartbreak. The film provides viewers with an honest rendition of tragic historical events committed against the Black community in 1960s Chicago.

The movie explores the inner struggle of William “Bill” O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a criminal who agrees to work undercover for an FBI agent instead of facing a prison sentence. He becomes an active member of the Black Panther Party with the goal of collecting prized information from Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

The Chicago police arrest Hampton for stealing $70 worth of ice cream—a crime which he did not commit and was sentenced to 2-5 years in prison for—while O’Neal rises in the BPP ranks in his absence, becoming security captain.

As O’Neal deepens his involvement with the Black Panthers and builds rapport with his fellow comrades, a moral dilemma emerges. He questions his traitorous ways and is guilt-ridden by the injuries and murders that his actions have caused.

Personal, political, and Panther agendas weigh on O’Neal’s shoulders throughout the film. Each of them collide during a climactic ending that will leave viewers on the edge of their seats in pure shock.

Representing Fred Hampton’s legacy would challenge even the most accomplished of actors, but Kaluuya’s portrayal of the BPP Chairman is nothing less than phenomenal.

Known for his roles in “Get Out”, “Queen & Slim”, and “Black Panther”, Kaluuya offers viewers another powerful performance in this film. He embodies Hampton’s passion when he speaks to crowds of his supporters, but he becomes the epitome of grace and gentleness in scenes with his character’s romantic partner Deborah (Dominique Fishback).

Kaluuya’s supporting role in “Judas” has already earned him a Golden Globe nomination and will likely result in acknowledgements from other professional organizations in the coming weeks.

In addition to Kaluuya’s achievement in the movie, LaKeith Stanfield’s leading performance as Bill O’Neal further solidifies the film as the one to set the bar high for other films to follow this year.

Also known for his role in “Get Out” and for his work in “Knives Out” and “The Photograph”, Stanfield channels an acting technique, that is new for him, for this film—the art of channeling unlikeability into a character.

Playing an infuriating, unlikeable character whose decisions lead to irreparable consequences seems anything but effortless, especially for someone of Stanfield’s good-hearted nature. Nevertheless, his acting in “Judas” causes even the most forgiving of viewers to despise O’Neal by the time the credits roll.

While the film’s acting strengthens its overall message, none of the film’s meaningful moments would exist without the masterful direction of Shaka King.

Hardly well-known in the entertainment industry prior to “Judas”, King directed small scale film projects for several years before tackling the story of Fred Hampton.

King’s vision for this project resulted in a movie that reflects his talent as a director and his commitment to eradicating false assumptions and opinions about the BPP.

Until he drew his final breath, Fred Hampton dedicated his life to the revolution. “Judas and the Black Messiah” reminds today’s Americans that the fight against social injustice is not over; the racism experienced by the Black community during the 1960s still runs rampant across the United States in 2021.

Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Shaka King, and every other producer, actor, and writer that contributed to this film deserve only the highest of praises for their skillful work.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is rated R by the Motion Picture Academy of America for violence and pervasive language.