Judas and the Black Messiah tells the true story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. It captures the spirit of a revolutionary, says Antony Hamilton
Shaka King’s new film Judas and the Black Messiah expertly knits together a web of revolutionaries, gang members, the local community, police and the FBI.
It’s entertaining—but also has a lot to say about the role of the police and the state, and even the question of reform or revolution.
There is archive footage of the Black Panther Party, an interview with William “Billy” O’Neal and an outstanding performance from Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton.
It exposes the violence of the state, as well as the truth behind Hampton’s politics—the politics of solidarity, revolution and the power of the people.
Hampton was a charismatic, young revolutionary and leading Panther. That’s why he was assassinated by the Cook County Police Department on the orders of the FBI, helped by his head of security and FBI informant Billy O’Neal.
To those already aware of Fred and his politics, he is an icon. But this film captures the evolution of his character.
There are pivotal moments when we see him grow. At times it’s easy to forget how young he was—in his early 20s he was described as having the gravitas of a man twice his age.
At only 21 he had already united rival gangs in Chicago under a Rainbow Coalition to resist police brutality and fight for all oppressed people.
His character develops during his incarceration for stealing ice cream to give to children, and in discussion with Mrs Winters, the mother of a panther who was killed by police.
Both show how the Chicago Panthers continue to hold on without him, and how he shouldered the responsibility of healing the wrongs of the state with direct solidarity.
The film captures a sense of community in every aspect. Fred was never really on his own, always surrounded by his comrades and I think this is key in showing what the Black Panthers were really about.
There may be key recognisable figures, but they were a party of the people, for the people. They were also gaining support and linking together with the anti-war movement and students.
This was too large a threat for the US government. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, labelled them such an important target that he set up a secret operation—Cointelpro.
The FBI incited gang violence, infiltrated black organisations and assassinated figures Hoover feared could become a “Black messiah”.
This is where the film starts, showing the community focus of a revolutionary force against the might of a secretive government body bent on destroying them.
The film is wrought with struggle and loss. At times there is so much confusion, and it comes down to Fred to offer clarity through speeches of unity against a common enemy.
But this is not just something to watch. It is a call to action and to fight for the legacy which Fred left behind: “We don’t fight fire with fire, we fight fire with water.
“We fight capitalism with socialism.”