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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Judas and The Black Messiah

A Love Letter From It’s Time To Our Current Generations

Films that deal with racial injustice or the fight for racial equality rarely leave you feeling hopeful. Always shaken, sometimes motivated, and sometimes inspired but never hopeful.

Shaka King’s Judas And The Black Messiah IS a film of hope because while the fight against racial injustice is always a form of survival, the film doesn't define that fight as survival but rather endurance. The Black Panthers of Judas And The Black Messiah effortlessly make endurance not look so lonely. They make endurance about community, love, family, and inner warmth.

In the late 1960s, having been offered a plea deal by F.B.I agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) enters the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). As the Black Panthers grow stronger, so do the pigs who fight against them and O’Neal is continuously burdened by his growing powerlessness. Stanfield tragically captures the fragility of someone literally buried in the crossfire between two sides. He sees the empowerment the Black Panthers are promoting and his situation keeps him from soaking his feet in the beautiful waters of what the Black Panthers offer as a community.

There's a particularly harrowing scene in the climax where O’Neal and Mitchell lock eyes on each other during one of Hampton’s speeches. O’Neal has his fist in the air with the others but he's not sharing in their revolution. Instead, he looks towards Mitchell like a sad puppy dog kicked in the stomach who is painfully looking up towards his owner. Mitchell's smug smile is like that of a dolphin’s smile but on him, it looks terrifying. Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words and by this point, O’Neal knows the F.B.I. is wrong about the Black Panthers but there's nothing he can do about it. The guilt he feels is that of someone who had choices and made the wrong ones but he really doesn't have as much free will as less compassionate audiences may feel that he has.

The complexity of Stanfield’s performance is incapable of invisibility but he is not the film's source of hope. Kaluuya’s Fred Hampton is. He's very charismatic and very passionate. He knows how to talk to people, how to find the soft spots of the most hardened, and bring forth communities that make the world a better place. He has toughness and power and anger but never loses that heart that connects him to people. He never falls for that hateful toxic masculinity that many fall prey to with the intention of using racial trauma to justify it.

Dominique Fishback is equally powerful as Black Panther Deborah Johnson who later becomes pregnant with Hampton’s child. The relationship between them comes from their mutual understanding of what's most important and they both nurture and empower one another the way all couples should. When Deborah first meets Hampton, she's in awe of him but never to the point where she sees herself as someone who couldn't make as much of a difference as him.

She's not intimidated by him or anyone. She sees that Fred Hampton the leader and Fred Hampton the person are one and the same and that's how she views herself. Deborah values herself in ways that many people don't value themselves. She knows that she matters simply because she does. No person needs a reason to be perceived as worth something and when you have a whole bunch of people who understand that, there's overwhelming joy at the prospects of what they could all accomplish together.

Overall, I vote Judas And The Black Messiah as a SEE. Judas And The Black Messiah is a love letter from its time to our current generations. Fighting for racial justice is just another way of acknowledging what the Black Panthers were really fighting for Love. The Panthers torch was never meant to be passed on down to one person. We all have this torch. Only when we as communities unite once more to promote this love will the fire on these torches start and continue to burn.

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