Why we can’t wait for “Judas and the Black Messiah” to come out in 2021?
As we all do at some point during our lives, I found myself scrolling through YouTube and going down the insatiable rabbit hole in which you start out looking for a new recipe and end up watching how-to videos about yoga. Well, on this particular day I was scrolling through my initial feed when I logged into my account and decided to click on a movie trailers link which took me to about 20 minutes of trailers for movies that are coming out in 2021. I won’t spoil some of the movies and I personally would rather that you watch them yourself but one of the films actually struck a core with me. Assuming that you have been listening to and hearing the news about what is going on in America, not referring to COVID-19 but to the re-evaluation of Civil Rights and Liberties which deal with racism and how America has treated minorities for decades; the trailer for this film actually might leave one of two feelings. The first would be a militant feeling of wanting to change the system that we are currently in and the second would be a look at a different time in history when we had similar problems.
The name of the film is “Judas and the Black Messiah” and it details the lives of two particular members of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, Illinois. One is the leader of the party, Fred Hampton, a Chicago local who was seen as an agitator by the federal government despite remaining peaceful and his head of security William O’Neal. O’Neal, at least from the trailer appears to be the primary focus and point of interest in the film and we can assume that the film details events of his time alongside Fred Hampton. Today we will do a brief look at the film, its actors, the plot, and of course the relevance of the film in today’s culture.
The Real Fred Hampton and William O'Neal
We have already mentioned the two major protagonist of the film but we have not really delved into their importance in what takes place during the film. I will provide a fair warning if you are reading this currently, I already know how the film will end but will not spoil it here. Unfortunately this was the only way to do the research for the background of the film. Firstly, we will begin by looking at Fred Hampton and his connection to the Chicago Black Panther Party. Fred Hampton was born in Summit, Illinois just west of Chicago in 1948. His parents had moved to Illinois during the Great Migration period as they were originally from Haynesville, Louisiana just along the northern border with Arkansas. Illinois offered more opportunity and fortunately less discrimination for his parents. As a young boy growing up in Summit, Hampton wanted a career as a professional athlete and wanted to play in center field for the New York Yankees. With his strong athletic abilities Hampton was also intelligent and desired to not be treated like a second-class citizen like all African-Americans during the Civil Rights Era. When he figured that athletics was not his gift to the world he noticed that he had a knack for public speaking and was encouraged by various people to become a lawyer and fight against the system that he was born into. Hampton wanted to use his legal education to use the system against the police who were harming and in many cases murdering African-Americans across the nation. Hampton was a member of the NAACP and in his mid-teenage years assumed leadership of its youth council. Along with the NAACP, fearing that the NAACP was not being radical enough he joined the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers were newly founded in 1966 and Hampton was one of its first members of the Chicago chapter. Hampton enjoyed the ideas that the Panther’s discussed such as “black self-determinism.” Hampton although approving of a more radical approach did not at all approve of violence. Hampton was completely against it as one of his idols Martin Luther King Jr. had accomplished so much without using force that Hampton felt that he could do the same thing in his community in Chicago. He was even granted ownership of his own Chicago chapter at the age of 20. His major contribution and importance to history is his attempt to form a “Rainbow Coalition” between Chicago’s Street gangs. He united them against the monstrous tyranny of racism and as a result gang violence dropped dramatically. With the “Rainbow Coalition” Hampton attracted national attention, but with this attention also came a view from a group that was notorious for putting down radical behaviors. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was anti-Black Panther due to their militant behavior in some chapters. Hampton’s chapter was cited not for committing acts of terrorism but guilty of loosely promoting these ideas. This makes no sense because Hampton was a pacifist and would not have wanted anything like this. However, Hampton had enough power in Chicago to potentially, “do something.”
Enter the second protagonist of the film, William O’Neal. O’Neal was born and raised in Chicago and was a known petty criminal in the city. According to sources, O’Neal was responsible for “everything from car theft and home invasion to kidnapping and torture.” Not exactly the man you would expect to be associated with a strong pacifist. O’Neal was 17 years old when the events of the film took place and was caught by an FBI agent. This was the beginning of the end for O’Neal who figured he would be going to prison for a very long time due to his other records, although not convicted there was plenty of accounts of his behavior. In 1966, at 17, O’Neal tracked down for a stolen vehicle and driving it across state lines into Michigan which makes it a federal offense and therefore a felony. O’Neal was trapped unless he did something in exchange for having the charges dropped. O’Neal was a member of the Black Panthers in the chapter that Hampton was running and served as a security advisor for Hampton. He had knowledge of Hamptons whereabouts almost 24/7 and assisted in trying to capture and potentially exterminate Fred Hampton. The FBI was running a program titled COUNTERPOL in which it attempted to get rid of radical ideologies and infiltrate organizations that sided with communist and socialist ideals. The Black Panthers were one of those groups that was involved with behaviors and Hampton was from then on a target of the FBI. O’Neal’s role in what happened was reveled years later and he was forced to go into the Witness Protection Program. From their, you will have to watch the movie to see what happens.
The casting director for this film did an excellent job with capturing two actors to play both Hampton and O’Neal who have achieved world famous status arguably but are especially famous for their supporting roles in Hollywood. Portraying Fred Hampton is Daniel Kaluuya, known for his Oscar-nominated performance in Get Out (2017) and most recently his role in Queen and Slim (2019). Kaluuya brings Fred Hampton to life in this film as we see in just the first 10 seconds of the trailer him yelling at a Black Panther rally. Not to mention, Kaluuya nails down a very strong Northern Louisiana accent in this film. Not sure what he had to do to attain this role but if he got it for just his accent alone I would approve. Although the accent in Northern Louisiana does have a big of a Texas sound to it, Kaluuya mixes a bit of Southern and Northern Louisiana in to create a character. Alongside him is Lakeith Stanfield who portrays William O’Neal. Stanfield has played numerous roles throughout the streaming service Netflix such as Demany in Uncut Gems (2019), and Amazon’s Original film Knives Out (2019). He has even played much smaller roles in other notable films such as Straight Outta Compton (2015) when he portrayed Snoop Dogg and Selma (2014) in which portrayed slain activist Jimmy Lee Jackson. He and Kaluuya have worked together prior on Get Out (2017) as well making this a real marquis matchup.
In other minor roles FBI Agent Roy Mitchell is played by Jesse Plemons who has played in a number of role within recent years which deserve attention. J. Edgar Hoover is portrayed by Martin Sheen. In addition, Ashton Sanders from Moonlight is in this film as well. Sanders will bring more of youthful feel to the film despite his costars portraying persons almost a decade younger than they are. This will definitely be a film to look forward to come Academy Award season and will hopefully take the acting awards home by storm.
In recent months over the issue of police brutality and with the added rise of hardcore “Right-Wing” politics it appears that a film like this will show us that the world 50 years ago was not that much different from the one that we occupy now. If anything, this film puts the viewer in the driver seat of picking which side they actually support. After all, William O’Neal was an FBI Informant but that does not mean that the FBI was correct in viewing Fred Hampton as a threat to American society. In context, the trailer of the film address themes that are very similar within our culture. Themes like loyalty, betrayal, cooperation, policing, amongst many others are put on display and in the face of the viewer. This film’s relevance to the USA today is crucial because it depicts a much darker time in American history and does not at all lighten the tone. It does not praise Fred Hampton but it does not exactly discourage what he was saying either. When this film comes out in 2021, it should be a great one for the world, not just US citizens to see. After all, the details of corruption and just the idea of what Hampton could have done if not treated like a villain by his own government lead to the question of what if?