MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Judas and the Black Messiah - On HBO Max Streaming and In Theaters
Directed by Shaka King
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield
Although February is past, I will be bold enough to recommend another film for Black History Month, especially since I believe Black History deserves our consideration 365 days a year.
Judas and the Black Messiah should definitely be a part of the curriculum, since it does what a good historical film should do; it provides nuance and reconsideration of events from our past that were grossly misrepresented and misunderstood at the time.
America in the 1960s was a nation that was conflicted about our military presence in Viet Nam and the country’s racial divide. Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcom X approached civil rights in ways that were at times in agreement and at times perceived as adversarial. J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), long-time director of the FBI, approached every effort for racial equality (including the Black Panthers) as a dangerous threat.
Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) was the chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party and spoke publicly at rallies about the creation of a Rainbow Coalition that would reach out to all people, with a special emphasis to the poor and the marginalized. You know, like what Jesus was trying to do. Hoover saw Hampton as a “Black Messiah” and the FBI needed a person to infiltrate and conspire against the Panthers.
Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) was a petty crook who was arrested by the FBI and given a choice to either spend an indefinite time in prison or work as an undercover informant for the government, volunteering for the Black Panthers and then relaying important information back to his supervisor Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Mitchell explains to O’Neal in an early conversation that he is all for civil rights – including working against the Ku Klux Klan – but that he is against violence as a means of achieving the goal (“You can’t shoot your way to equality.”).
The film takes the time to show us the love and mutual respect between Hampton and his girlfriend/partner Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), a poet and a co-leader in the movement. A few powerful scenes also demonstrate Hampton’s ability to persuade neighborhood gang leaders and skeptics to join forces. The Panthers often carried firearms but were instructed to refrain from using them.
Judas and the Black Messiah leads up to a moment of ultimate betrayal that will silence Hampton’s life, but not his legacy. Bill O’Neal carried the guilt of his complicity in Hampton’s death for the rest of his life.
This is a film of ideas that also entertains, with a smart script and a great cast. It’s also worth noting that primary filming was in Cleveland. (And – yes – Fred Hampton is played by Daniel Kaluuya, who starred as W’Kabi from Wakanda in 2018’s Black Panther.)
It's a rare film that can be linked to both the New Testament and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I hope that you will find the time to view and discuss this exceptional movie.
A Note about viewing streaming titles. I am aware that more films are being streamed exclusively to many different services and that these subscriptions can be confusing and expensive. I would encourage you to consider paying for a month’s membership (or even a free trial period) of a streaming channel that is showing something that you’d like to see. After you sign up and your first payment is recorded, return to the place where you bought the membership and “cancel” your account immediately. This will not void your paid subscription (you will still have your full 30 days), but you won’t have to worry about being charged indefinitely. Many consumers have learned to spend a month on Netflix, a month on HBO Max, a month on Starz, etc. one at a time. Of course, you can always wait for the DVD to come out and then rent from Redbox or from the local library. But with streaming taking the place of early DVD release, you might have to wait quite a while for the popular movies to appear with physical copies. (That’s why we maintain an archive of past reviews on our website.)
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A film about high idealism, social justice, and resistance to change, in a film with convincing biblical parallels.
Four pitchforks: Strong language, racism, violence, robbery, betrayal, murder.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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