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Sundance Review: Judas and the Black Messiah

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah.

Photo credit: Judas and the Black Messiah/HBO

On Friday, Judas and the Black Messiah, a film about the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and the plot to assassinate their chairman, was released on HBO Max. I had the chance to watch the film this year at Sundance, and the reason why it's taken me so long to write a review is that it's is one of the most gut-wrenching films I've watched but also one of the most phenomenal.

Both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield provide an award-worthy performance of chairman Fred Hampton and William O' Neal, respectively. Their performances provide a more nuanced look at Chairman Fred Hampton and the man who essentially sold him out.

Even though Kaluuya's portrayal of Hampton is in front of the poster, and the movie is sold as his story, and about his assassination, Hampton is often treated like a background character to Stanfield's O'Neil.

One of the movie's most standout performances is Hampton's speech after he's released from prison. Still, even that is focused on the staredown between Stanfield's portrayal of O'Neal and Agent Mitchell played by Jesse Plemons. An element of the story that is missing is the ages of both central characters. Fred Hampton was 21 when the FBI assassinated him, and William O'Neal was 17 when he was approached to become an informant or face jail time. Those ages make this story even more tragic.

Another standout performance is Dominique Fishback's portrayal of Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend. The end of the film where Hampton is assassinated isn't shown on film. Instead, the camera pans to Johnson's face as she realizes what's about to happen, and then the gunshots go off.

While I'm happy Hampton's story is being told at least somewhat through the lens of media, we can't ignore the history of race in this industry and the way it continues to make money off of Black tragedy while investing little to none of that back into the people these stories are based on. For example, Fred Hampton's son Fred Hampton Jr. is currently the chairman of his chapter and only recently reached his goal on GoFundMe to save the Hampton House.

The studio could've helped them reach that goal months ago since they're profiting off the family's story.

Moving forward, I want studios to do more when they can for the people who have risked so much for the biopics bringing them money and accolades.

Grade: A-


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