New film “Judas & The Black Messiah” hit theaters on Feb 12, 2021, nationwide. Starring Daniel Kaluuya (“Queen & Slim”) and LaKeith Stanfield (“Atlanta”), the film is a biographical drama that tells the story of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and his downfall, largely thanks to Black undercover FBI informant William O’Neal
Set in the sixties, towards the end of the Civil Rights Movement, the film depicts just how intricately the FBI worked with local law enforcement and informants to infiltrate and decimate Black Panther Parties across the country.
Hampton’s chapter of the Black Panthers was based in Chicago and began to grow in power and popularity, not only with African-Americans but other minorities and even poor whites.
This coalition garners fears of rebellion and miscegenation from law enforcement and powerful federal officials like J. Edgar Hoover.
O’Neal is a cunning hustler, known to use fake FBI badges to swindle people out of their cars, is given a chance at clemency if he helps the FBI infiltrate slowly infiltrate Fred’s chapter and keep them one step ahead of the Black Panthers.
He quickly rose up the ranks by becoming his driver, using a car provided to him by his FBI handler. O’Neal reluctantly assists with logistics, secret safe houses, and weapon caches as he ultimately becomes head of the Panthers’ security–a true Judas.
Stanfield and Kaluuya equally shine in their respective roles. Stanfield, yet again, proves himself to be a versatile actor, this time taking on the persona of a person most African-Americans would rather forget altogether.
Every half-smile, or slinking move he makes in the movement gives you the feeling he truly is up to no good and means no good for anyone.
In a recent interview with CNN the actors reunited and discussed their roles. Lakeith spoke on how he was able to develop his character.
“Because he was doing secret operations with the FBI, his identity and all the things about him, were not very well known, obviously, at the time,” Stanfield said. “So, I didn’t have a lot to work with, but I had his interview from [the documentary] ‘Eyes on the Prize’ [in which O’Neal appeared] and a couple of court transcripts, as well as a couple of stories of second-hand accounts and views of who he was and what he did.”
Kaluuya, even as a Black Brit, wholly embodied Fred Hampton’s persona. Looking at historic footage of Hampton’s speeches, vernacular, and how he carried himself, it’s apparent that Kaluuya truly studied hard for this role.
“It’s not like I became him, I felt like he was there,” Kaluuya said. “I felt like he was coming through me, like he was in the room.”
The film is a reminder of the trauma African-Americans have endured, even while fighting back. However, it also falls in line with an age-old saying, “All ‘skinfolk’ ain’t kinfolk.”
“Judas & The Black Messiah” is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.