As Black History month comes to a close, I’ve decided to do something a little bit different. This week, I’ve decided not to talk about music and instead, I will share my thoughts on a movie. That movie is *drumroll* … Judas and the Black Messiah. Before hopping into things, let me give you some background info on my illustrious movie critiquing career. I barely watch any movies, but when I do they’re usually only action, crime or comedies. I probably haven’t watched half the classics that you can think of and this entire post is likely *full of spoilers* (it’s been out and you could have seen it from your couch fam).
A lot of people will go into this film thinking it’s a biopic about Fred Hampton, chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. A lot of people will be right…but it’s even more so about William O’Neal, the FBI informant that played a part in the assassination of Fred Hampton. Whatever you just said in your head when you read that, just know that’s what I said too. Shaka King is a brave director for approaching the film from this perspective but, to be honest, it worked on me. This is a really good movie.
Usually I don’t really get excited for these kinds of movies because I usually have to watch a prominent Black figure get brutally murdered. However, Shaka King chose not to show Hampton being shot in the head in his apartment and I appreciated that. It didn’t make anything less impactful, it just made the ending less triggering. As a black person, I appreciated that. I also appreciated that King made the choice not to start off the film with the “Black Panther Party are essentially the greatest threat to national security and need to be dismantled ” rant from J. Edgar Hoover. He could have done it and it would have still set the tone, but then our first impression of the Black Panther Party would be negative. Instead, he started it with previous footage and recordings of Black Panther Party members talking about what they felt the Black Panther Party represented. Seems like a simple adjustment but that kind of attention to detail made things easier to digest because Black people weren’t being villainized from the jump.
I’m not familiar with Sean Bobbitt but shoutout to him too because the cinematography in this thing was fire. Speaking from personal experience and from my limited viewing of films, I can say that white cinematographers have a history of poorly capturing Black people on camera. If a dark skinned person is in a scene with a fairer skinned person, all of a sudden the lighting is super ass for the dark skinned person. Honestly, until movies like Moonlight and shows like Insecure, I don’t think dark skinned people got proper lighting. My guy Sean must have been paying attention though because everything in this movie looked crisp. You had all the dark skinned brothas looking nice on the screen so thanks for that.
Daniel Kaluuya and Lakieth Stanfield put on an acting clinic. They’re acting kept you locked in from start to finish. Whether it was something grand like Kaluuya giving his best Fred Hampton performance during the “I Am a Revolutionary” speech or Stanfield trying to mimic the subtle eye movement of William O’Neal during his interview for the Eyes on the Prize II, these guys had you locked in on every scene.
Kaluuya and Stanfield weren’t alone in putting on a crazy acting performance, there were two female leads who were right there with them. Dominique Fishback and Dominique Thorne, bare ratings to both of you. Fishback played Deborah Johnson and gave a performance that really made you empathize with the various sides of being apart of this movement. During the Hampton speech when he says, “I’m going to die for the people because I live for the people” you could feel the duality to that scene through Fishback’s acting. Hampton’s on the stand speaking to a large crowd all the while Deborah Johnson is in tears, as she’s carrying Hampton’s baby, dreading the thought of his words becoming a reality. Whether you get emotional watching movies or not, it was heavy.
Thorne on the other hand played Judy Harmon and she was arguably my favourite character in the movie. You wanna talk about ride or die fam? This woman was it. If she feels you’re moving shaky, she got the piece in her pocket. Time to defend the Black Panther Party office, she’s front and centre with the shotty. Never waivered, never faltered. If I’m being real it was inspiring…but it was kinda sexy too man.
Although I can understand the situation William O’Neal was in, I personally can’t respect the choices he made. A lot of people like to look at political issues and take the stance of “I’m apolitical or I don’t bother with politics”. I’m not going to tell you what to do and I’m not saying this movie is supposed to change your position on it, but I do think that the route William O’Neal took showcases the dangers of “not having an opinion on politics”. He blindly believed in a system that never represented him from the beginning and as a result, he ended up significantly damaging a movement that was making strides to empower his own people. All because he didn’t want to have an opinion, he didn’t want to stand for anything, he wanted what he defined freedom to be. Every step he took was to preserve his own sense of freedom but when you look back at things, did he ever end up actually being free?