Released: 11th March
Seen: 9th July
Earlier this year we had the Oscars… and they were something of a shitshow. The lowest viewed ceremony in history, filled with baffling nominations that no one really understood (how the hell was Mank the most nominated film?) and an ending that was so cynically planned that it could only end in spectacular failure.
Like with every year I made a prediction post and this year I named two films that I had missed due to lack of availability. One of them was Judas and the Black Messiah, a biopic about the Black Panther party leader Fred Hampton. It would end up taking home best supporting actor and Best Song… my question is why it didn’t take home more because it’s absolutely brilliant.
Judas and the Black Messiah follows FBI informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) who, after being caught impersonating an officer, is given the job of keeping tabs on Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). As he does this, he slowly learns what the Black Panther party actually does, namely help out their community while being called radicals and being attacked by police officers with nothing better to do with their time. The film follows O’Neal and Hampton until Hampton’s final day when Hampton is murdered during a raid by police.
Judas and the Black Messiah is not even the tiniest bit subtle and for very good reason, it has no reason to be. It’s here to set a record straight and to show the forces that were up against the Black Panther party back in the 60s, without shying away from the violence of the confrontations. It’s powerful and it’s intense, it doesn’t hold back for a moment and just lets you witness this important period of history.
From start to finish, the thing that makes Judas and the Black Messiah fire on all cylinders is the incomparable Daniel Kaluuya giving the performance of his life. It’s no wonder he won the Oscar this year, he was the only actual option to take it home with how incredibly powerful he is every second. He makes you not only understand why so many would be willing to follow Fred Hampton, but why so many in power were scared of him. Honestly, even while Lakeith was great and deserved the nomination he got, this film belongs to Kaluuya and it’s impossible to deny that.
What’s also stunning to me is that Judas and the Black Messiah is only the director’s second feature… the director, Shaka King’s second feature length film and he produces this instant must see? I don’t know how he’s going to follow this but I’m excited to find out because everything about this film is just perfect, from the performances that the director pulled out of his actors to the incredible camera work that builds tension when needed but also allows you to completely melt into this world. Honestly, the stuff during the raid at the end is some of the most heart stopping stuff that is simultaneously graphic and restrained in all the right ways.
Judas and the Black Messiah is the kind of biopic that could be shown in schools where they want to talk about Fred Hampton but have no idea how to do it… I mean sure, that’d mean teaching kids about the horrors of racism and apparently that’s a bad thing to teach now, but this still could be an excellent way to get people to learn more about this period in history. It’s so well told that you learn a lot, but so intriguing that it makes you want to go learn more about the party it presents and the people who made it.
Judas and the Black Messiah is something you don’t see every day, a truly revolutionary film about a true revolutionary. It’s powerful and it’s intelligent, intense and unforgiving. It doesn’t hold your hand, it shows you a period of history as plainly as it can and does so in a powerful way. I’m not even a little shocked this was an awards darling, I’m just stunned it didn’t end up dripping in more gold. Honestly this is one film that more people need to see as soon as possible, and considering the times we live in, I can’t imagine a better moment than right now to start learning this important bit of the past.