‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is writer and director Shaka King’s big screen debut, and he does not disappoint. Featuring rising stars like Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield, King creates a timely film about racial injustice.
The biographical story follows Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) as he goes undercover in the 1960s Black Panther party as a spy for the FBI. There he meets the radical revolutionary Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), using his words as weapons to fight against the racial injustice in America.
Incorporating one of the most accurate and insightful looks at the Black Panther Party, ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ chooses no side, takes no moral high ground, and puts no shame on O’Neal. It purely lays out the historical events for the audience to perceive for themselves.
A story of the Black Panther Party like this is much needed in today’s climate. The revolutionary group of the 60s fighting for equality is rarely shown or taught about in schools or modern media. Even some mentions like in Forest Gump depict it in accurately. ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is different. It shows the most accurate depiction of the Party, focusing not only on the racial equality, but also the political and economic ideals that they proposed.
While still being a biopic at heart, filled with dialogue and source material, the film does night shy away from action. Filled with realistic gunfights and suspense, it allows for the casual, impatient viewer to enjoy.
The cinematography of this film is masterful, and even more impressive considering that ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is only King’s third film. Featuring long one-shot scenes, foreground and background action, and camera moves that immerses the audience in the storyline, King’s direction is like that of a seasoned veteran.
Apart from the masterful direction and storytelling, there are yet more Oscar-worthy performances, from both LaKeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya.
Stanfield proves every single day that he is incredibly underrated and overshadowed by Hollywood and the academy. His performance in ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ is by far his strongest, and that is saying something, considering his previous roles in ‘Sorry to Bother You’, ‘Knives Out’, ‘Uncut Gems’, and ‘Get Out’. Stanfield has yet to disappoint in his performances and should undoubtedly be considered one of the greats in today’s movie industry. His performance as Bill O’Neal gives the audience a middle ground between the two varying political sides of the film. He plays both sides, a Black Panther and a FBI mole, exploring both sides to allow the audience to choose.
Supporting Stanfield in this docudrama is his ‘Get Out’ cast mate, Daniel Kaluuya. Kaluuya’s role of revolutionary Fred Hampton really shows the audience what the Black Panther Party truly was. It’s hard to believe that the actor who shows so much confidence and charisma as Hampton is the same man who embraced fear in the role of Chris Washington in ‘Get Out’. This shows how diverse of a range Kaluuya has, and there is no doubt he will win the Oscar this spring for his role, especially after his Golden Globes win earlier this mont.
Influencing O’Neal’s traitorous efforts in the Black Panther Party is FBI agent Roy Mitchell, played by Jesse Plemons, an amazing character actor. He plays Mitchell with an eerily mischievousness and untrustworthiness of a villain, but hides it behind a veil of charm.
King’s direction paired with Stanfield and Kaluuyas brilliant acting truly push the film to another level. This combined with the applications to modern problems, gives a truly unique insight to the Black Panther Party of the 60s.