Present-day social issues reflected in Black Panther Party-inspired film

4 Stars ★★★★ ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ provides audiences with a historical drama, carried by masterful acting performances, which draws parallels between the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and today’s Black Lives Matter.

Sean Runnoe, The Carroll News

“Anywhere there’s people, there’s power.” This quote from Fred Hampton, chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party in the 1960s who was known as “The Black Messiah,” exemplifies his philosophy and serves as a modern connection when the voices of the Black Lives Matter Protestors proved that when there are people, there is power. 

Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya, famous for his role in “Get Out” and winner of the 2021 Golden Globe award for Best Supporting Actor for his role, attempts to organize the Black Panther Party in order to work with rival gangs so that they may a form the Rainbow Coalition. Members of the Coalition call for the banishment of the police from their community, equal rights, the end of police brutality and freedom. Meanwhile, Bill O’Neal, played by Lakeith Stanfield (“Knives Out” 2019) was coaxed into going undercover for the FBI to work to take down both the Black Panther Party and Hampton. 

The FBI and J. Edgar Hoover, played by Martin Sheen, attempts to take down Hampton and his party in fear of Hampton becoming a national leader who will mobilize African American Organizations. Hoover’s paranoia drives the film as he and the FBI make various attempts to silence Hampton.O’Neal starts to doubt his role as an undercover agent and becomes paranoid that his cover may be blown. 

Both Hampton and O’Neal undergo their own journeys throughout the film Hampton serves as the “Black Messiah” figure who bears the burden of being the figurehead of the Black Power Movement, while O’Neal takes on the role of “Judas,” feeling more conflicted as he becomes more involved with undercover work. The film culminates by explaining the legacies that both men left behind. 

Directed and produced by little-known director Shaka King, the film demonstrates King’s masterful directing and writing ability. King combines a political thriller with a crime drama and period piece while connecting these historical events to the current struggles of our nation. King provides audiences with a socially relevant and cognizant movie, where each scene, despite being based on the 1960s civil rights movement, could happen in today’s America. 

Stories of police brutality and police misconduct  sound eerily similar to the deaths of many African Americans in the 21st century, which asks audiences to question how much has changed since the events of the movie?

King employed jazz musicians Mark Isham and Craig Harris to help tell the story of Hampton and O’Neal. Jazz music guides the viewer through each scene, every song acting as its own character. 

Despite struggling with the pacing issues as the movie finds itself struggling to keep the audience fully engaged throughout slow burn type film, the movie tells an interesting and true story to audiences that is perfectly relevant to today’s sociopolitical landscape. With the 2020 Black Lives Matter Protests still fresh in our memories, along with other worldwide demonstrations to fight racism, “Judas and the Black Messiah” both entertains and challenges the viewer to think critically about racism and equality.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is in select theatres, and audiences must wear masks and socially distance when attending. Subscribers of HBO Max can stream the movie on their devices through Mar. 14 and again after the film concludes it’s theatrical release, it will return to HBO Max at an unspecified time according to Collider.