Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

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Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama directed A handful of King who was signed both as a producer and one of the screenwriters. After its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival two weeks ago, the film was distributed in cinemas by Warner Bros. Pictures, while simultaneously streaming on HBO Max. Work on this film started seven years ago, but after several failed attempts, it was successfully shot in 2019.

The plot of the film is set in the late sixties of the last century and we follow Fred Hampton (Danijel Kaluja), a young and charismatic activist who serves as president of the Black Panthers branch in Chicago. With his work, he attracted the attention of people from the FBI and the Chicago police, who need a man inside to destroy his revolution. We look at events from the perspective of Bill O’Neill (Laken Stenfild), a young man who, due to circumstances, became an FBI informant and reluctantly infiltrated the circle of Fred’s closest associates.

Throughout the film, we see indirect but detailed explanations of the beliefs and specific ideology of the Black Panthers, as well as Fred Hampton’s charisma and expertise to become a leader of people of different races or ethnic groups who have in common the oppressed and social strain for which basic US principles and values not valid. Because of their activities, the Panthers filled newspaper headlines, were considered terrorists and people who posed a danger, so the authorities did not choose the means to shut down the organization, considering them a direct threat to “our way of life.”

Given that the members of the organization behaved like an army, that they had their own management system, that they carried berets and weapons, it would be meaningless for the scenario to ignore the potential threats and escalations of violence that surrounded the Panthers. The story puts their words and deeds in a broader, much more thoughtful context, so we see that these people did not seek struggle, but exclusively more equal living conditions in their communities. The rights defined by the US Declaration of Independence are the foundation of democracy, but when those rights are demanded by the oppressed, the ruling party considers it communism.

Although genre-defined as a historical drama, Judas and the Black Messiah is above all a truly impressive example of historical fiction. The script finds meaning between events based on historical events and characters that did exist, but the scenes and dialogues were probably invented in the right context. The organization was social, but the stories in this film are personal. The main theme is politics, but it is so well woven into the story that at no point did I feel overwhelmed by philosophies or ideology. Even the relationship between Fred and Deborah, which I expected to be a cliché, grows more and more, until a moment filled with helplessness and sadness.

In these events and games of politics and power, the character of Fred Hampton comes as the hero of some Shakespearean tragedy. From an early age, a witness to violence against African-Americans, an activist who learned the speeches of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X by heart, is aware that his end will also be violent. He sees no problem in that because he is ready to die fighting for others. He organizes programs for free food and education, addresses criminal groups and it is truly amazing what a man has managed to achieve in his 21st year. While Fred possesses strength and great self-confidence in public appearances, the few scenes in which we see his vulnerability effectively represent his humanity to us, especially because he seems to hold the entire African-American community on his back.

On the other hand, the character of Bill is not a classic villain, but a petty criminal who came to the situation to save his own skin, but in the context of Fred’s story he became a real villain. In his already inflamed internal conflict between the need for freedom and growing paranoia, a factor he did not count on is unexpectedly added – personal support for what Fred stands for. While Daniel Kaluja is so striking here that I can’t look at him as a supporting actor, Lakit is great at portraying a man in whom growing anxiety and shame clash.

Judas and the Black Messiah is an excellent dramatization of historical events, a strong condemnation of racial injustice, an honor of the courage and passion of the revolution, and a biographical work that is at the same time universal and unique.

my final grade: 10/10

Source: The Filmske Recenzije by filmskerecenzije.com.

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