The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black messiah from among their midst. –FBI director J. Edgar Hoover
Judas and the Black Messiah Review
Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah is the historical biopic of the story of Fred Hampton, Bill O'Neal, and the Black Panther Party.
Radical leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) electrify in this crime-thriller-meets civil-rights-historical-drama. Judas and the Black Messiah, tells the story of the rise of the Black Panther Party’s deputy chairman—Hampton—and O'Neal, the informant who helped the FBI orchestrate Hampton's assassination on December 4, 1969.
Judas and the Black Messiah highlights the legacy of COINTELPRO (COunter INTELligence PROgram, 1956–unknown) of repressing Black freedom movements. As much as this is a movie is a historical dramatization of Bill O'Neal, the Black Panther Party, and the assassination of the magnetic leader Fred Hampton nearly a half-century ago, it's also very much a movie of the moment given that the effects are still very much alive today in regard to both the Black Lives Matter Movement and the disparities by law enforcement.
This powerful film, while it highlights the lives of Hampton and O'Neal and their relationship, is also a keen criticism of the FBI's surveillance of social movements—both past and present—and a condemnation of racial injustice with significant extant relevance.
Through King's directing, Sean Bobbit's cinematography, and acting by Hampton, O'Neal, and others, the audience is able to experience extreme empathy for these characters and catch just a glimpse of what it might have felt like living in 1969. They managed to collectively capture one of the most challenging times in American History with suspense and realism in this eye-opening film.
In December 1969, Hampton was drugged, shot, and killed in his bed during a predawn raid at his Chicago apartment by a tactical unit of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department and the FBI.
The film closes with archival footage of Hampton's speeches, Hampton's funeral procession, and a 1989 interview by O'Neal. The title cards state that O'Neal continued to work as an informant within the Black Panther Party before committing suicide.
Why You Should See Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah is brilliant storytelling about what happens when one person's magnetism and leadership does not fit within the confines of a government organization's narrative—or when someone pays the price of being too vocal in a sea of suppression.
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About Judas and the Black Messiah
FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). A career thief, O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?
Judas and the Black Messiah is available from Warner Bros. Pictures in select theaters and on HBO Max on February 12.
Directed by Shaka King | Written by Will Berson and Shaka King | Story by Will Berson and Shaka King, and Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas | Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Dominique Thorne and Martin Sheen | Produced by Ryan Coogler, p.g.a.; Charles D. King, p.g.a.; and Shaka King, p.g.a. | Executive Produced by Sev Ohanian, Zinzi Coogler, Kim Roth, Poppy Hanks, Ravi Mehta, Jeff Skoll, Anikah McLaren, Aaron L. Gilbert, Jason Cloth, Ted Gidlow, and Niija Kuykendall