A review of the new film “Judas And The Black Messiah”

This is a true story set in Chicago in the late 1960s. This was an especially terrible time to be a protestor – particularly a black protestor – in the United States as previously set out in films like “Detroit” and “The Trial Of The Chicago 7”. In this case, the messiah is the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), the young, charismatic agitator Fred Hampton, while his nemesis is equally young black petty criminal Bill O’Neal who agreed to infiltrate the BPP to escape a jail sentence.

British actor Daniel Kaluuya plays Hampton. We already knew that he was a fine performer as shown in such work as “Get Out” and “Queen & Slim”, but here he is simply outstanding, by turns mesmerisingly vocal and tenderly caring. In a deeply unsympathetic role, Lakeith Stanfield (“Get Out” and “Knives Out”) is utterly convincing as the informer who is himself a victim of the corrupt criminal justice system.

The film was co-written, produced and directed by Shaka King whose heritage is largely from Panama and whose upbringing was in diverse neighbourhoods in New York. It is only his second feature film – the first was eight years earlier – and represents a triumph that will rightly win many awards. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, its release is so timely and so relevant. Hampton’s partner and son were both consultants on the film which gives it added authenticity.

I only have two reservations about this wonderful movie: one continual and the other occasional. The first is that the dialogue and its delivery are so authentic that an older white Britisher like me could not catch it all. The second is the odd casting of Martin Sheen as FBI director J Edgar Hoover which involves distracting prosthetics.

Most true life films finish with some text explaining what happened afterwards. In this case, there is even more text than usual plus some amazing archive footage. Be sure not to miss it.


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