Yo Ho, WeRCatz here.
I was finally able to watch the film Judas and the Black Messiah last week. I waited to publish this review until after the Oscars announced their nominations. This film has 5 nominations: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Song. This was in part with the Golden Globes where it lost Best Original Song but won Best Supporting Actor. Judas and the Black Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya in the LEAD (we’ll get into this labeling later) role as Fred Hampton (Chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 60s) and Lakeith Stanfield as criminal-turned FBI informant William O’Neal who betrayed Hampton to his murder on December 4, 1969. Hampton was 21.
The film starts off with O’Neal (Stanfield) trying to rob a nice car disguised as an FBI agent. Naturally, he was recognized and arrested. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell offers a deal to O’Neal after asking questions involving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and Malcolm X: infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and get close to its leader Fred Hampton (Kaluuya).
Throughout the film, we see O’Neal growing close to Hampton via his actions and his future interview in 1989 about what he did and what he got out of it. We also get to see Hampton’s progress to help the poor minorities and disenfranchised groups: he helps create the Rainbow Coalition with Jose Cha Cha Jimenez (leader of the Young Lords who started as revolutionaries and then became a civil and human rights group) and William “Preacherman” Fesperman (skilled speaker of the Young Patriots Organization who supports poor white people coming from the Appalachia region and migrated to Uptown, Chicago). He helped communities with the Black Panther’s program “Free Breakfast for Children.” Hampton falls in love with fellow Party member Deborah Johnson.
As O’Neal starts to get compensated by the FBI for intel, the viewer starts to see the horrible outcomes of several key members of the Black Panther Party and lead to the gruesome murder of Hampton at the hand of Chicago police (being aided by the FBI). We also see the aftermath of these events as we see Hampton’s speeches through archive footage, O’Neal’s real testimony in the PBS interview in 1989 before committing suicide in 1990. Deborah Johnson, now known as Akua Njeri, and her son Fred Hampron Jr. both serve as board member and chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs.
There is confusion about the Oscars due to the category of Best Supporting Actor: both Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya are nominated as supporting actors. What? In screenplays, films, and whatever in this age of storytelling there must be someone in the role as a main character (antagonist, protagonist, or otherwise). The roles of Hampton and O’Neal could be interpreted as leads and/or lead and support. Why are there two supports and “no lead?” It does not make any sense.
I am glad to have watched this movie and learn about the many players involved. This is a must-see movie. Had Hampton lived on, we would have lived in a different America that benefits everyone.