Daniel Kaluuya stars as charismatic Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton (Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures).
What Could Have Been?
“Judas and the Black Messiah” represents the greatest what could have become for the African-American community.
The movie is not a what could have become cinematically because “Judas and the Black Messiah” is otherworldly as a film.
However, what would the African-American community look like now if savior type leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or Fred Hampton did not die at the hands of a government-assisted assassin?
The government had a hand in the assassination of King in 1968.
The FBI played a role in the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965.
And the FBI (along with local Chicago police officers) straight up pulled the trigger, approximately 100 times, in the assassination of a sleeping Hampton.
But while the United States government showed utter cowardice and hatred for playing a role in the aforementioned assassinations, the biggest villain in “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the African-American that would sell out his own people for selfish gain.
And unfortunately, the story of Hampton getting betrayed by his own “skin folk” is a common theme in African-American history because it happened before to leaders like Malcolm X.
Like many government informants, Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield, “Sorry to Bother You”) basically had two options: snitch or go to prison for years.
While many stand-up guys would have done their time honorably, especially when no one forced them to commit their crimes, “Wild Bill,” as his comrades called him, chose to do the former instead of the latter.
Working with the Feds is not unfathomable for Bill either because his entire criminal enterprise is predicated upon impersonating an FBI agent in order to steal cars.
Although many car thieves or car jackers would just use a gun to rid someone of their vehicle, Bill discovered that in the Chicago ghettoes where many people carry guns, a badge does more to scare a resident than a firearm.
When Bill sees a beautiful red Pontiac GTO convertible parked outside of a Chicago bar and pool hall, he goes into his whole FBI charade, accusing one customer of stealing his own car.
He frisks all of the patrons at the bar, and when he finds the keys to the GTO, he bails out.
While this ruse has worked in the past, Bill’s hustle eventually catches up to him.
And in order to avoid doing 18 months in prison for the stolen car, not to mention five years for impersonating an officer, he agrees to infiltrate the Chicago Black Panther Party in order to get dirt on its charismatic leader, Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya, “Sicario”).
FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons, “The Irishman”) and his colleagues have come under pressure from their boss J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to prevent the rise of a Black messianic figure that could unite the people and challenge the racist caste system in America.
Hampton presented a grave danger for the FBI in the late 1960s.
While African-American leaders from the past 15 years had their limitations, Hampton seemed to have strengths where the others had weaknesses.
King spoke to the well educated, elite and Christian African-Americans, particular in the South.
But because of the country persona of some of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and the turn the other cheek mantra, many looked upon the leaders of that movement as Uncle Toms.
On the other hand, Malcolm X resonated with the streetwise city cats from cities like New York and Boston who had done time in prison and looked to clean their lives up.
However, because of the way the Nation of Islam had labeled the White man as devils, a leader from that religious sect would find it hard to collaborate with people outside of the African-American community.
But Hampton had an innate ability to reach the African-American gang members on the west side of Chicago, leaders in the Puerto Rican community as well as poor White Americans who dealt with some of the same hardships faced by African-Americans and other minority groups.
At 21-years-old, Hampton did not fear talking to gangbangers from rival neighborhoods.
And as a young man, he did not fear talking to angry White men who felt like they had been forgotten by America.
Most importantly, Hampton had the ability to speak directly to the pain of different groups to make them understand that despite their difference in color, they fought the same oppressors.
A young African-American man that could unite the have not’s, and demand justice from the haves presented a clear and present danger to the status quo.
Therefore, a leader like that had to be eliminated.
But how could the White power structure get close enough to an influential African-American leader?
The White power structure just had to use an African-American traitor to get close enough to that leader, and the walls would come tumbling down.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” has already set the bar ridiculously high for films in 2021, and it is just the second month of the year.
While Hampton’s story might be well known to history buffs, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is not necessarily about the history lesson because it is the same message whenever an African-American gains a large amount of power and influence over the masses.
That person gets eliminated.
But “Judas and the Black Messiah” is all about the performances.
Whenever Hollywood goes the biopic route, fans and critics debate the casting choices.
But in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Kaluuya seems born to play Hampton from his passion to his cadence and speech patterns.
He nails the somewhat fast speaking voice that Hampton had.
Furthermore, Stanfield looks so much like the real O’Neal that he just had to play the streetwise hustler turned snitch.
Additionally, “Judas and the Black Messiah” also features the talents of Algee Smith (“Detroit”), Ashton Sanders (“Moonlight”) and Lil Rel Howery (“Good Boys”).
And although the fiery rhetoric and the politics might turn some off, especially some outside of the African-American community, “Judas and the Black Messiah” represents what could be for Hollywood if it continues to produce such instant classics about the heroes of African-American history.
That would be pure cinema greatness.