Director Shaka King’s docudrama unveils, without sensationalism, the rise of the Black Panther Movement and its leader, Fred Hampton (1948-1969); Daniel Kaluuya is superb in capturing Hampton’s passion, dedication and vision in championing, recognizing that black lives do matter and deserve respect; poetically inspirational, with oratorical might Kaluuya gifts Hampton the lionization he earned and, especially in retrospect, deserves. Chicago, 1968/69 gave birth to a new world order; disastrous decisions by political powers, left an indelible blot that time as yet to erase; J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI led the misguided crusade against Hampton and his corps; his fear was a jailed Hampton would enhance his “martyrdom” status; boomeranged.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” scores a major triumph in depicting William O’Neal (1949-1990), (Lakeith Stanfield) as the Quisling orchestrating Hampton’s annihilation; FBI agent Roy Mitchell (flawlessly cast Jesse Plemons) mobilizes O’Neal’s betrayals. Stanfield is mesmerizing as a man, salvaging his life, by enabling the destruction of a friend, a force he believes and admires; hellish complexities inform his grinding efforts not to be discovered; “oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive”; Stanfield’s achingly unfeigned portrayal lends fiber to a fine film.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” bestows clarity on a time when grey areas were ignored; black and white divisiveness infected discourse; over fifty years hence, has the narrative improved?