And the Oscar goes to… Judas and the Black Messiah

In February this year, while we were in lockdown, I watched an exclusive preview screening of Warner Bros’ latest movie Judas and the Black Messiah and attended a special talents’ gathering online to discuss this production. I immediately knew that I was watching a movie that would make an impact on film history. Judas and the Black Messiah is an insightful film that feels relevant with what is happening in today’s history. 
Before the Oscars, it had already received a number of awards this season, including best supporting actor trophies at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Critics’ Choice Awards and British Academy Film Awards for star Daniel Kaluuya. Last night, he also won the Oscar for best supporting actor. In addition to that, the Oscar for Best Original Song went to H.E.R. for the song Fight for You, which was featured in Judas and the Black Messiah.
 
 
The story 
Chairman Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he was assassinated by the FBI, who coerced a petty criminal named William O’Neal to help them silence him and the Black Panther Party. But they could not kill Fred Hampton’s legacy and, 50 years later, his words still echo…louder than ever. I am a revolutionary! In 1968, a young, charismatic activist named Fred Hampton became Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, who were fighting for freedom, the power to determine the destiny of the Black community, and an end to police brutality and the slaughter of Black people. Chairman Fred was inspiring a generation to rise up and not back down to oppression, which put him directly in the line of fire of the government, the FBI and the Chicago Police. But to destroy the revolution, they had to do it from both the outside…and the inside. Facing prison, William O’Neal is offered a deal by the FBI: if he will infiltrate the Black Panthers and provide intel on Hampton, he will walk free. O’Neal takes the deal.
 
 
Now a comrade in arms in the Black Panther Party, O’Neal lives in fear that his treachery will be discovered even as he rises in the ranks. But as Hampton’s fiery message draws him in, O’Neal cannot escape the deadly trajectory of his ultimate betrayal. Though his life was cut short, Fred Hampton’s impact has continued to reverberate. The government saw the Black Panthers as a militant threat to the status quo and sold that lie to a frightened public in a time of growing civil unrest. But the perception of the Panthers was not reality. In inner cities across America, they were providing free breakfasts for children, legal services, medical clinics and research into sickle cell anemia, and political education. And it was Chairman Fred in Chicago, who, recognising the power of multicultural unity for a common cause, created the Rainbow Coalition — joining forces with other oppressed peoples in the city to fight for equality and political empowerment. 
 
The trailers 
 

 

The verdict 
 
Hopefully Judas and the Black Messiah will shed light on the Black Panthers’ community service and movement. The real story of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther party is not romanticised in the movie. It’s a tough watch. Spoken in an American slang that could benefit from subtitles at times, it is poetic at times but hard for the most part. Still moving and factual, though. Judas and the Black Messiah is very poetic about the power of women, and the essentiality of women in all societies. The timing of this film is crucial following George Floyd’s death. Everything is intense about this movie, which is topical at this very moment in time. The actions of these activities 50 years ago have inspired today’s activists. 
 
Writer, director and producer Shaka King wanted to have an opportunity to explore past and present of citizens’ efforts such as the Black Panther movement and bring this awareness to the masses. 
 
 
During the virtual press conference, in conversation with Emory Douglas, the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture, it was highlighted that many artists today are continuing to use art as protest and as a way to push the culture forward and create change. Equally, the influence of pop culture impact of The Black Panther Party has been recognised in current music and fashion. During the conversations online, the speakers including Chuck D., Ebonee Davis, costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones and Elaine Welteroth, explored the meaning behind some of the Black Panther Party (BPP)  “uniforms” and how their style was purposefully different than supporters of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. They also looked at how the BPP & Chairman Fred have impacted music today. 
 
 
I love the iconic and authentic wardrobe in the movie too. Lots of research went into it. Fashion is also political especially in this era with lots of meaning. Chuck D commented: “I was born a negro in 1960 then I became coloured mid Sixties and black by the end of the  Sixties. We were very fashionable and beautiful then. We were proud about the slogan ‘Black is beautiful’ but that all happened only because people were active making those changes. They demanded those important changes and had a high intellectual regard on how they wanted to do things before doing it that. In 1970 -1971 I was part of the Afro-American experience, in which we actively contributed to the formation of rap music”.
 
Reflecting on the unprecedented times we are living, Ebonee Davis said that thePandemic REST is an act of rebellion. We have never been able to put our feet up and do nothing”. 
 
Even Mother Akua, a survivor and wife of assassinated Chairman Fred Hampton, was on the call with the talents and said that she was touched by her story portrayed in this movie. She added: “Actors Dominique Fishback and Daniel Kaluuyadid a tremendous job in portraying myself and my husband. Their chemisty on set and on screen made me miss the comraderie between myself and my hudband while reliving those moments of my life so much. I really would like for people to know that it did not just happen in 1969 but black people still haven’t achieved freedom. We are not free yet. For me to sit back, i could not do that. I cannot sit in my armchair comfortably and expect a revolution to happen. This struggle is still going on. I hope Judas and the Black Messiah will raise awareness of Fred’s legacy because there are many distorted stories about the Black Panther party out there. People can support this movement. It’s not just a talking point but people can become activists”.
 
 
Star Daniel Kaluuya commented: “Portraying Fred Hampton was  a humbling experience. I felt honoured to represent him, his beliefs, his love for the people. The power of love in itself resonates with me. He had an internal revolution and was free in his own mind. I felt so aligned with the importance of Fred Hampton’s legacy. ‘Where’s people there’s power’ is a big concept. I feel that togetherness in my generation has been interrupted in a sense. People come together on social media or zoom but we are not feeling each other. It is important to be in the community to gauge how people feel. It’s communication not classes. There’s empathy and compassion among people”. 
 
These messages are highly relevant for the times we are living and will resonate with many audiences watching Judas and the Black Messiah.
 
London Mums’ rating: 7/10  

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