Judas and the Black Messiah.

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Author: Mary F. Corey
Date: Summer 2021
From: Cineaste(Vol. 46, Issue 3)
Publisher: Cineaste Publishers, Inc.
Document Type: Movie review
Length: 2,590 words
Lexile Measure: 1290L

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Produced by Will Berson, Charles D. King, Shaka King, and Ryan Coogler; directed by Shaka King; story by Kenny and Keith Lucas; screenplay by Will Berson and Shaka King; cinematography by Sean Bobbin, production design by Sam Lisenco; art direction by Jeremy Woolsey; costume design by Charlese Antoinette Jones; edited by Kristan Sprague; music by Craig Harris and Mark Isham; starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons, Lil Rel Howery, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Sheen. Color, 126 min. A Warner Bros, release, www.warnerbros.com.

Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah tells the story of the life and death of Fred Hampton, a young Black Panther Party leader cut down before his prime, and the infiltrator who betrayed him. But this film is more than the story of a singular charismatic leader. Judas and the Black Messiah also illuminates the community surrounding Hampton as well as the scale of the government forces arrayed against it. While the film has the emotional range of a grand opera, with Hampton's commanding exhortations to live and die for the people as its arias, it is also a work of surprising intimacy. This is not a heroic biopic, but a closely observed and rather personal exploration of what it was like to live (and die) in a radical Black community.

In 1972, Cineaste published a critical review of the documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971), which noted the distinction between "radical film-making and the filming of radicalism," arguing the film did only the latter, citing the filmmakers' uncritical and often romanticized depiction of its protagonist and some of the movement's tactics. I agree that the slavering nature of some of the cinematic accounts of the Panthers produced in the Sixties and Seventies lacked nuance. But with Judas and the Black Messiah, I believe Shaka King and co-writer Will Berson have successfully addressed both sides of this equation. They have made a radical film about radicalism.

Full disclosure: I am what the French call a soixante-huitard (a veteran of the social justice movements of the Sixties and Seventies) and for me Fred Hampton, the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, was a hero. He was arguably the parly's most eloquent orator and possessed impressive intellectual and persuasive skills. Before his death at age twenty-one, he had already demonstrated these skills by building alliances across race and class lines with both The Young Lords and The Young Patriots, saying, "We'll work with anybody, form a coalition with anybody that has revolution on their minds." He seemed to check all the boxes of Black Messiah-hood, qualities that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover insisted made Hampton and others like him the "most dangerous men in America." So, when I heard that a film about Chairman Fred called Judas and the Black Messiah was in the works, I knew that the Judas was the FBI informant Bill O'Neal, who infiltrated the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and helped the Bureau to...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A667573629