Judas and the Black Messiah
By James Davidson
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is a dramatic biopic based on the true story of Bill O’Neal, an FBI informant who infiltrated the Black Panther Party in order to gather information of Fred Hampton, one of the party’s prominent leaders. It was released on February, 12th, 2021 and has been released theatrically as well as on HBO’s streaming service, HBO Max. It stars LaKeith Stanfield as O’Neal and Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton.
This film piqued my interest because it is about a subject that I admittedly know little about, and it focuses on Bill O’Neal, a person that not a lot is known about. Quite a bit is known and documented about Fred Hampton, he was a very influential leader of the African American community in that time period, but not much has been documented about O’Neal and I thought it would be an interesting perspective to view this story through.
Bill O’Neal was an FBI informant who was forced to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party in order to garner trust with Hampton, eventually leading to the assassination of the young political leader. O’Neal was caught stealing a car and impersonating a federal officer and was given the choice to either cooperate with the authorities or face a lengthy prison sentence. The film takes extensive creative liberties with O’Neal’s story simply because, apart from one interview that he gave, nothing much is known about him. Shortly after that interview O’Neal committed suicide.
I thought the fact that the film decided to focus on the “Judas” character in the story and did a fantastic job on showing the inner turmoil that O’Neal must have been facing. LaKeith Stanfield gives a masterful performance as “Judas” as he struggles with the morality of some of the things that he is asked to do. His chemistry with Daniel Kaluuya, who portrays Hampton in an award worthy performance, is impeccable and the two actors are the driving force in a film filled with powerful performances.
The film portrays the story with gut-wrenching emotion and the writing is incredible. After finishing the film I was left emotionally drained and the movie is very thought provoking. The movie focuses on a story and time in our nation’s history that is not easy to talk about, but needs to be addressed nonetheless. It does this in a powerful and thought provoking way, the fact that it is entertaining is almost secondary.
I’m not sure how historically accurate the film is, but regardless of if it is accurate or not it evokes a lot of thought and hopefully instigates some questions and conversations that can lead to people learning more about something that they might not know much about.
This movie is rated R for violence and pervasive language. There is a lot of violence and severe language that makes this movie inappropriate for younger children. This movie is probably better enjoyed alone or with a few close friends. It’s main purpose seems to be to bring the story to light instead of to primarily entertain.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is a powerful and emotionally heavy film. It features powerful acting performances and passionate writing. It is best to be prepared for an emotional experience before turning this movie on, but definitely one of the must see films of 2021. It earns 4 out of 5 stars.