Judas and the Black Messiah is available for digital rental in the United Kingdom from March 11th.
Identity and community are the building blocks of society, the mortar that holds us all together. Even in the face of tremendous adversity, these building blocks are the most powerful weapons we wield. Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah is a complex interrogation of what identity and community mean and the power of a voice in building a movement.
The year is 1968, and the place is Chicago. Following his arrest, William O’Neill (Lakeith Stanfield) is offered a deal to avoid jail time by FBI Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). The agreement in question will see him infiltrate the Black Panthers, led by the iconic Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Here King’s film’s not only focuses on events in Chicago but the very nature of political movement during 1968 following the political sparks of 67.
The opening slide projector-inspired vignette highlights the history behind Judas and the Black Messiah, offering historical context before Lucas, King and Berson’s screenplay explores these tensions in full, from the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X to the FBI’s suspected involvement in both cases.
READ MORE: BROTHER
Daniel Kaluuya is intoxicating as Fred Hampton. He is seductive and powerful, commanding attention and holding the viewer’s focus even in his most humble moments. Kaluuya’s portrayal of Hampton is expertly crafted, showing us both the revolutionary and the father as he moves from powerful expression to quiet contemplation. In many ways, Kaluuya walks with the spirit of Hampton inside him, his performance encapsulating the most potent ammunition the Panthers had – their words. Many of these words still ring true today, continuing to ignite a shared passion for change.
While Kaluuya’s Hampton is a beacon of revolution and change, Stanfield’s O’Neill is far more complex. Here Stanfield works the material masterfully as he plays a compromised character warped in internal conflict. As O’Neill and Hampton develop a rapport, we see cracks in Stanfield’s persona as he slowly fractures – torn in two by his commitment to Hampton’s revolution and the need to bring it crashing down for his own security.
READ MORE: WAVES
Judas and the Black Messiah gives a voice to the struggle for identity and equality, both collectively and individually, through Hampton’s battle between martyrdom and fatherhood and O’Neill’s internal conflict. It’s a masterclass in political discussion and the contradictions and complications beneath the surface of action. Here Judas explicitly explores the oppression Hampton is fighting and the insidious state desire to destroy hope and equality.
As the film delves into the horror of black oppression and inequality in 60s America, King explores the absolute denial of safety at every level. When moments of brutality are shown, they’re unflinching in their horror and terrifying in the perverse enjoyment that seems to emit from certain officers and agents. Judas and the Black Messiah takes these moments and zooms out, exploring the ripples they trigger as they crack the mortar that holds society together.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a film that demands your attention and your responsibility as it asks us to explore the fractures that persist in our modern world. Maybe they can only be fixed once we all accept that our world is not equal and that the game was rigged from the start for so many. But as Fred Hampton said, “you can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill a revolution.”