Two Golden Globe nominations, the who’s who of the African-American Hollywood scene and (so far) no official theatrical release: it came in the USA JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH parallel to its limited theatrical release directly to the streaming service HBOMax. We reveal in our review why we would like the film to be released in local cinemas.
OT: Judas and the Black Messiah (USA 2021)
FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is tasked with infiltrating the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and spying on its charismatic leader and chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). At first, the habitual thief O’Neal takes pleasure in manipulating both his comrades and his superior, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). As Hampton’s political influence grows, he falls in love with revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle rages for O’Neal’s soul: Will he ally with the forces of good? Or will he try to subdue Hampton and the Black Panthers by any means necessary, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) demands?
Director and co-writer Shaka King cited Shaka King as his greatest inspiration for his Fred Hampton biopic “Judas and the Black Messiah.” (“Newlyweeds”) the Martin Scorsese masterpiece “Departed,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrates a gangster syndicate as an FBI agent while one of his members infiltrates the police. Fred Hampton, played here by “Get Out” star Daniel Kaluuya, was an American civil rights activist and Black Panther Party activist who was shot dead in a police operation in December 1969. Previously, the petty criminal William O’Neal, in his position as an FBI informant, had repeatedly provided the investigators with information about the internal processes of the Black Panthers – and so it has not yet been finally clarified whether the killing of Fred Hampton was a (gladly accepted) It was accidental or planned long in advance. For such radical material, Shaka King’s production of “Judas and the Black Messiah” is relatively well-behaved. When making comparisons to thematically similar fare – we remember, for example, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit”, in which she depicts a barbaric act of police arbitrariness – it is noticeable that King allows the anger evoked by the act to have a subliminal effect on his film, rather than overtly to display. As a result, his “Judas and the Black Messiah” sometimes has a documentary feel to it, which illustrates the events underlying the plot no less intensively.
Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) electrifies the masses.
Although “Judas and the Black Messiah” is primarily understood as a portrait of Fred Hampton, it is actually about two different contemporaries. On the one hand, King illustrates Hampton’s life journey from civil rights activist of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to head of its youth department to Black Panther member and founder of the Chicago chapter, before becoming chairman of the Black Panthers at the age of just twenty -Section of Illinois was appointed. A meteoric rise for the law student that Shaka King brings to his audience here by devoting a significant portion of his film to Hampton’s energetic speeches. “Judas and the Black Messiah” paints the picture of a rhetorically outstanding persuader, about whom FBI agent Roy Mitchell once says during the film that he could “sell salt to a snail.” In combination with an outstanding performance by Daniel Kaluuya, who has completely shed the reserved shyness of his “Get Out” character in order to put all his heart and soul into fiery speeches to his followers, this results in some of the best scenes in the film. When Fred Hampton, who is hardly noticeable in terms of his physical appearance, steps in front of his audience, encourages his listeners to join in, clenches his right hand into a fist and a mixture of rebellion, anger and confidence appears in his vibrant facial features, Kaluuya effortlessly achieves one Favorite position in this year’s Oscar race – he already has a Golden Globe nomination for his role.
“‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ paints the picture of a rhetorically outstanding persuader, about whom FBI agent Roy Mitchell once says during the film that he could “sell salt to a snail.”
However, the narrative bracket of “Judas and the Black Messiah” belongs to someone else: William O’Neal, the FBI informant through whose eyes the investigators perceive their view of the Black Panther Party and its inner workings – and accordingly also their image that is worthy of combat (the previously secret investigative program COINTELPRO was created as a “state counterinsurgency program” to prevent interference with unwanted political groups, which included the Black Panther Party). The film begins with a re-enacted interrogation scene of O’Neal and ends with excerpts from a real interview that he gave in 1989 in which, among other things, he answers the question of how he would explain the events to his children. Shaka King and Will Berson also stop in between (“Mighty B! Here Comes Bessie”) written script every now and then, interrupts the events inside the Black Panther movement and devotes himself to the interaction between O’Neal and Special Agent Roy Mitchell. But while “Judas and the Black Messiah” is an almost meticulous portrait of Fred Hampton that meticulously explores the civil rights activist’s strengths and weaknesses, the inclusion of O’Neal (and with it LaKeith Stanfield’s undoubtedly impressive performance) remains more of a utilitarian nature. It would have been exciting to find out what his existence as an FBI informant did to him as a personality. But with the exception of a few expressed doubts about the meaningfulness of his actions, the exact characterization of his character is secondary. Maybe because the detailed lighting of two characters would have gone beyond the scope of the production…!?
William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) makes a deal with the FBI (here: Jesse Plemons).
But even so, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is packed to the brim with moments steeped in history, which also introduces viewers who are less interested in the topic to the importance of the Black Panther Party and its contentiousness (even within our own ranks, doubts were repeatedly raised about how the members understand their role as rebels). To do this, Shaka King hardly resorts to well-known images of actively practiced racism – he confidently assumes knowledge of the grievances that continue to exist worldwide today. Instead, he focuses on what that same oppression did to African Americans who then joined the Black Panthers. It is perhaps the greatest strength of “Judas and the Black Messiah” that the focus here is not on the perpetrators, but on the victims, and at the same time it deals not with their being victims but with their being a rebel – a narrative approach , which reveals the handwriting of a filmmaker himself affected by racism. This is one of the reasons why “Judas and the Black Messiah” has an irrepressible energy flowing through it at all times, which results not only from Hampton’s passionate speeches, but also from the way in which King structures scenes and gives them his very own rhythm. The arrangement of the men and women in a small space gives the impression of a planned choreography in several ways, so that you expect a groovy musical performance at any moment. The actors even seem to coordinate their breathing with one another, so that the tension continues to increase, but does not find its catalyst in a dance and singing number, but “only” with another flaming battle of words.
“It is perhaps the greatest strength of “Judas and the Black Messiah” that the focus here is not on the perpetrators, but on the victims, and at the same time it deals not with their victimhood but with their rebel existence.”
Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (“Widows”) dresses “Judas and the Black Messiah” in colorful, high-contrast images that have a timeless elegance. Again and again he films from the large crowd and gives the audience the feeling and the opportunity to be right in the middle of it in the truest sense of the word and to be infected by Fred Hampton’s energy. In addition, he uses his camera to get very close to the faces of the characters portrayed here, thereby bringing you closer to the inner simmering of characters like Jesse Plemons’ Roy Mitchell, to whom the script otherwise doesn’t pay as much attention. Craig Harris and Mark Isham (“The Accountant”) Meanwhile, they provide the corresponding soundscape in which the gravity of the topic is reflected as well as Shaka King’s emphasized mood of optimism.
Conclusion: “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the energetic portrait of Black Panther member Fred Hampton, who died under tragic circumstances, which director and writer Shaka King presents with rebellious defiance and presents the fight against racism from the victim’s perspective without emphasizing victimhood . As a result, his film resonates for a long time, even if the motives of the titular Judas remain a little underexplored.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” can be seen in USA cinemas from July 1st.