Saturday 27 August 2022

Judas and the Black Messiah [2021]

 There’s a constant interplay between scalding anger and understated melancholy running through Shaka King’s furious, electrifying, fiercely evoked, meticulously researched and marvellously told feature debut Judas and the Black Messiah, and rightly so. It captured the grotesquery that the establishment committed under the guise of “threat to internal security of the country” – in essence a manifestation of systemic racism and systematized governmental overreach – through the real story of incessant intimidations, false arrests and ultimately murder of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, by the FBI. And, ironically, they achieved their nefarious objective by planting William O’Neal, a car thief turned FBI informant, in their midst in order to rat on Hampton and the Panthers, and thereafter betray him, in lieu of money and protection from prosecution. Daniel Kaluuya who played the charismatic, indefatigable and extraordinarily progressive 21-year-old revolutionary Hampton – who believed in social welfare, justice for black communities, and raising political consciousness of the working class, and could deliver rousing speeches – with superb panache, vigour and power, and Lakeith Stanfield who played the shifty, slippery and conflicted O’Neal with the cunning charm of a chameleon, were both excellent in this gripping work laced with political prescience, moments of tenderness and vulnerability, and exquisitely composed atmosphere. Jesse Plemons as O’Neal’s FBI handler and Dominique Fishback as Hampton’s girlfriend and fellow BPP activist Deborah Johnson provided noteworthy supporting turns, as did others. That King, instead of taking a straightjacketed approach, structured the film like a thriller – even if it’s tragically predestined – and chronicled it through the dual perspectives of its two dramatically divergent men, made this so much more layered, complex, authentic, dismaying and compelling.

Director: Shaka King

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Biopic

Language: English

Country: US

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