Judas and the Black Messiah

I predict this as one of the films that will sweep the awards in this year’s Oscars. It mainlines the zeitgeist of the past year, #blacklivesmatter, and of telling stories that are of increasing importance in our morally bankrupt world, never more so than in the aftermath of Trump’s racist and divided America. The eponymous Black Messiah is Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s, and Judas is Bill O’Neill, a car-jacking criminal who is turned by the FBI and forced to betray Fred by drugging his drink before the FBI shoot him in cold blood.

Shaka King takes these events and fascinatingly portrays both men as equal co-stars. Obviously Hampton is the hero, a fiery blood mesmerisingly played  by Daniel Kaluuya. He fearlessly unites the poor whites and the Puerto Ricans on the basis they will only triumph over inequalities by uniting in the cause against the white establishment: he was deemed by J Edgar Hoover (a sinister turn by Martin Sheen) as a communist who must be exterminated before he can do more damage. LaKeith Stansfield (who was in Get Out with Kaluuya) is an almost likeable and sympathetic Judas; someone who loves being wined and dined by his controller Roy Mitchell, the immediately recognisable Jesse Plemons, while being drawn to and full of admiration for Hampton…but he is in way over his head. Now I may be shot for saying this, but I found the film quite hard to follow at times: I was yearning for subtitles as in The Wire. Hampton was renowned for his oratory –  ‘I am a revolutionary’ being his catchphrase – and it plays an important part in the film. American audiences I’m sure would be much better able to follow the dialogue and hence some of the intricacies of the plot, but this didn’t overly detract from the clarity of message and the powerful performances in this hard-hitting film about the lengths governments will go to silence their critics. Plus ça change, I’d say.

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