Judas and the Black Messiah has one of the best scripts of 2020. But, many will not understand why for years to come. In a year where the mechanics of oppression are being studied in our streets and on our screens, it’s asking a lot to make audiences sympathize with Bill O’ Neal. After all, who likes an informant? Snitches get stitches for a reason.
The Black Panthers have become some of the greatest mythic figures of the later 20th Century. No matter how many institutions try to demonize them or color their actions, their place in history is unquestionable. But, what is history without careful omission? It’s not a secret among the informed the FBI spent decades trying to keep American societal progression under its thumb. Enter the story of Hampton and O’ Neal.
The overlap between The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Judas and the Black Messiah feels cosmic in 2020. Two films about overlapping periods of time with two sharply different takes. Seale was off having his adventures with the Yippies while keeping the Illinois Black Panther Party informed of what was going on. Meanwhile, Hampton was doing his best to keep the Party afloat, even with the traitor O’ Neal picking away at him.
Fred Hampton isn’t meant to be a Messiah figure, but who is? No one actively seeks the role of a hero, but greatness is thrust upon the people that don’t break. Bill O’ Neal broke and kept breaking for decades. But, what was he supposed to do? You really shouldn’t blame a man caught in a system designed to create informants and destroy any threat to the Conservative power structure. But, Bill O’ Neal responded to any challenge with the conviction of a sponge.
Daniel Kaluuya offers up an amazing performance as Fred Hampton. While he’s neck and neck with Paul Raci in terms of who might win Supporting Actor, I can see it going any possible way. Judas and the Black Messiah is far more important than number of wins it racks up in a weird Oscar ceremony. It’s about finding any popular medium to share history that gets ignored on a School Zoom session.
Getting to watch a movie like this premiere on HBO MAX is part of the new paradigm. While I love having the ability to watch the film at home, I find myself running against the clock. Due to the theaters shutting down, I find myself moving away from having to have everything reviewing by Opening Night. That’s just not how people are viewing Judas and the Black Messiah or any other film now.
Warner Brothers is trying to turn a corner with some of its content, while botching other parts. What other parts are up to you to pin down, but it rhymes with B.C. Tomics. Hell, I’m still mad at them for not giving us a final season for Venture Brothers. Did we really need Birdgirl? Answer me that, as I try to get people to watch Judas and the Black Messiah.
Ultimately, Judas and the Black Messiah is a long developing script that finally gets mainstream attention thanks to Pandemic streaming. I could go see it at my local AMC, but I’m not going into that Germ Mausoleum for two hours. One thing I do wish I did before the film left HBO Max was take more screenshots and study some of the shots I enjoyed.
I wasn’t familiar with Judas and the Black Messiah director Shaka King until this film. But, I eagerly look forward to what he does in the future.