Based on true events is Newlyweeds‘s director Shaka King’s feature film, Judas and the Black Messiah, a biopic of Black Panther political organiser Fred Hampton, assassinated by the FBI at the age of 21.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Fred Hampton, played by multi award winning Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya, was an American activist revolutionary with socialist values. As an amazing negotiator and orator, he was able to create harmonious relations between the street gangs in Chicago, inspiring them to work together and reach a higher cause.
As he highlighted that continual gang conflicts would leave them entrenched in poverty for generations to come, he, through the Black Panthers organisation, sought to address the needs of education, food, and medical programmes for all. As such, he was considered a major threat in the FBI and was a highly sought target, so they sent Bill O’neal (LaKeith Stanfield) in to work as an informant.
The benefit of a biopic is that we can see and feel what it is like for a few hours, as a person in that era. What is rather disheartening with watching the film though, is the feeling that not much has really changed – yet this movie is set in the late 1960s. The clothing, the looks and the music in the film is retro, yet the Black Lives Matter movement is still happening today.
This film would suit any person interested in history, politics, socialism, racism and equality. The clothing and style of people in the film are spot on, and their dedication to the cause so inspiring. The way the scenes are set along with the pivotal moments depicted in the film, are of marked contrast to today’s instagram influencers.
Kaluuya’s performance is standout as Hampton, in the scenes where he negotiates with gang members you can feel both his fear, his courage, and his determination; it is a strong portrayal. Credit should be given to multiple actors, including Jesse Plemons as FBI agent Mitchell, Lakeith Stanfield as informant O’neal, Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, Darrell Britt-Gibson as Bobby Rush, Algee Smith as Jake Winter (particularly in his police shootout scene) and little Dominique Thorne who, although a composite character of real female black panther members, bought it to life as Judy Harmon.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a powerful tribute to Fred Hampton’s life that was cut too short, and his legacy still survives today. As the movie shows however, many of the Black Panthers’ lives were cut too short.