HBO Max Review: Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah has made its debut on HBO Max and in theaters. Written and directed by Shaka King, this political drama tells the story of William O’Neal, Fred Hampton, and the FBI in the 1960s.
Led by two electric performances, this film details a dark part of American history in a really compelling way. Unfortunately, this story is still relevant today. The film itself is a constructive statement on racial injustice that does not pull its punches.
This movie is important to watch. It highlights a portion of American history that has not been properly taught in schools. It shows the lengths the FBI was willing to go to stop a young man who was doing some truly good work for his community.
While it is still a heartbreaking story, the movie is incredibly riveting. It is definitely worth your time, and I believe that this film will inspire others to continue telling stories from history that have been wrongfully told until now.
Judas and the Black Messiah definitely focuses more on the story of William O’Neal. He is the titular Judas, who infiltrated the Chicago Black Panthers and gave the FBI the opportunity to assassinate Fred Hampton.
O’Neal, portrayed by LaKeith Stanfield, was practically forced by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panthers. William O’Neal was only 17 when he became an informant. After committing some criminal activity, O’Neal had to choose between infiltrating the Black Panthers or serving a significant criminal sentence due to his felonies.
What 17 year old wouldn’t try reducing their sentence? O’Neal was certainly a victim of the FBI’s aggressive tactics. The film definitely shows the struggle that O’Neal faced. As he got closer to Hampton, he became more and more conflicted.
Ultimately it is a tragic story. Two young black men were victimized by the FBI for political purposes.
Daniel Kaluuya delivered a powerhouse performance as Fred Hampton, the titular Black Messiah. His incredible portrayal of Hampton really added to the tension that grew as the film moved on.
Hampton was only 21 when he was targeted by the government. That is one gripe I had with the film. Kaluuya is incredible, but he does not play a believable 21-year-old. The fact that Hampton was so young when this happened is a pretty important detail to the story.
Hampton had made such an important impact on his community by the age of 21, imagine if he lived much longer. I can’t help but wonder what Chicago would look like today. However, that is only a minor complaint with the film.
Fred Hampton was changing Chicago. He had gotten several of the gangs to end their violence in pursuit of societal change. He was making enough of a positive impact in his community to gain the attention of the FBI.
You can disagree with his political ideology, but there is no denying the positivity that Hampton had brought to his community.
However, I do wish that the film could’ve found a way to show this positivity more often. You get brief glimpses of it throughout the movie, but it really focuses on the struggle that O’Neal was facing. Again, this doesn’t make the movie bad by any means, but I wish that the good work of the Black Panthers in their community got more screen time.
The work of the Black Panthers has been criminally misrepresented over the years. It is refreshing to see a huge movie studio like Warner Brothers support a film like this. Judas and the Black Messiah does not shy away from condemning the FBI for their hateful actions.
The film is a captivating thriller. It has a propulsive energy that it manages to maintain all the way through. I won’t spoil the very ending of the film, but it is an incredibly compelling way to wrap up.
The story of Fred Hampton is heartbreaking. While this isn’t a traditional biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah does open opportunities for filmmakers in the future to portray the Black Panthers the way they should have always been.
Overall, this film is beautiful. From the direction to the actors’ performances, every one delivered on screen. It is an important movie to watch, and it is well worth your time.
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Director: Shaka King
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback
Runtime: 2h 6m