07/101. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)
Dir.: Shaka King
But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat; I am the people!
When taking upon themselves the task to depict the rise, work, fall and legacy of the communist revolutionary Fred Hampton, of the Black Panther Party, as well as the tragic journey of his murderer, William O’Neal, the moviemakers bite way more than they can chew.
Although soundtrack and cinematography deserve praise, the narrative feels sliced, like little pieces of moments that portray historical marks and the passage of time. Maybe for being a commercial film, it doesn’t risk as much as those by whom it was inspired. It needed to be at least one hour longer to develop its characters and themes in order to do justice to the immense shadow cast by the memory of Hampton, and the work of the Panthers at that time.
On the other hand, to the unaware viewer, who knows few or nothing about the actual story, this movie is very well put together, in the sense of conveying who were the Black Panthers, how and why they were revolutionary; and why, despite every gang and organization formed by black people in the US, only they were especially targeted by the FBI. Why a group of black people and other adepts to the cause, organized on a national level, would bother Uncle Sam so much. Why would the United States of America need to make up a war on terror only to take them down.
Despite his age, Daniel Kaluuya embodies the spirit of Fred Hampton (murdered at 21) with frightening accuracy, down to his accent and idiolect. Together with LaKeith Stanfield, they deliver the movie’s best moments. Tension, euphoria, biterness, hatred and hope, all channeling through their starly performances.
Jesse Plemons’ character, the FBI agent who hires Bill O’Neal as an informant, is also noteworthy: although humanized, he’s never redeemed from his part on the crimes brought about by the State. What opresses the blacks— as well as the browns, and latinos, and poor people and the working class — is not the mere will of one government, but the whole structure of the very society we exist in. And the agent Roy Mitchell suffers that on his own skin.
So, with great cast and competent enough writing, the movie manages a few hits, but misses the headshot. Although it doesn’t do justice to the historical figure it portrays, at least it may be a good way to introduce and provoke thought on those who don’t know about him.
If it does nothing else, let it radicalize you. 🦉
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