Sundance Review: Judas and the Black Messiah

Following the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X, the FBI turned its full attention to The Black Panther Party. Whilst Director J. Edgar Hoover described them as ‘the greatest threat to the internal security of the country’, much of their activities were focussed on community social programs. However, as the end of the 1960s approached, tensions between police and members were rising. Fred Hampton, the leader of Illinois chapter, had become one of the group’s most powerful leaders. This brought him to the attention of the authorities, which is the subject of Judas and the Black Messiah.

When William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) is busted by the cops, he is given two choices. Either he collaborates with the FBI as an informant or serves several years in prison. With no real option he begins to work for his handler, Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). He’s tasked with infiltrating the Chicago branch of the Black Panthers, headed up by Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). He goes about his job with enthusiasm, but as time goes by he comes to question his allegiances.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a beautifully made period drama which highlights yet another dark chapter in the FBI’s history of undermining the civil rights movement. Shaka King’s film works so well due to career defining and brilliant performances from Kaluuya and Stanfield respectively. Whilst it’s entertaining and engaging throughout, Judas and the Black Messiah does ring a few false notes around authenticity and plot progression. It’s a fine piece of cinema though.

Judas and the Black Messiah screened at Sundance Film Festival.

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