“Judas and the Black Messiah” (US Rated R)
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Dominique Fishback, Jesse Plemons
Genre: Drama, Biography
Accelerated by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and buoyed by the #OscarsSoWhite backlash, Hollywood has tapped into its social justice and advocacy soul.
In the last few years, and especially during the lost year of the pandemic, we’ve seen a surprising number of films featuring black actors, writers, producers and directors, that have found new ways to highlight a more authentic black American experience.
From “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night in Miami” to “Da 5 Bloods”, some rarely discussed issues and perspectives have populated some of the bigger releases over the last 12 months.
And while others have not all dealt with minority groups, but also with fringe organizations, they all seem to seek to address the injustices many have had to endure at the hands of the establishment, particularly police forces, the FBI, the CIA, the US government.
Quite a few have been set in the years surrounding the wild 1960s, and it’s clear the aim is often to show that things are not all that different today than they were 50 years ago.
In this environment, events that were buried by time or placed high on a shelf collecting dust for decades are coming to light now.
And finally, we get a based on a true story tale involving a leading and controversial figure in the Black Panther movement.
Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
Released in theaters last week, and simultaneously on the streaming service HBO Max, “Judas and the Black Messiah” has got it all. Combining the fight for racial equity and equality with the intrigue of a spy drama, makes for a compelling, edge of your seat thriller.
Directed by Shaka King, who co-wrote the script along with Will Berson and Kenny and Keith Lucas, “Judas and the Black Messiah” also features a stellar cast.
Stanfield (“Sorry to Bother You” and TV’s “Atlanta”) and Kaluuya (“Get Out” and “Black Panther”) are outstanding. And there’s a lot of Oscar buzz, particularly for Kaluuya. But Stanfield is also deserving, in a very complex, multifaceted role and performance.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to learn more about the real-life stories of the characters featured here. And based on what I’ve already read so far, “Judas and the Black Messiah” may have only scratched the surface. Plus, the parallels with the original Judas and Messiah are simply amazing.
Here’s hoping this isn’t just a fluke from Hollywood to capitalize on a “popular” movement, and that we will continue to see more of these fascinating stories.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.