Good day you lovely people. I hope this wonderful weather is not stopping you from visiting your local moving picture house. I know I mentioned it last time, so I shan’t harp on about it, but I am still genuinely thrilled at being allowed back in a dark room full of strangers. I get all goose-bumpy every time.
Anywhoo. On to the main event, Judas and the Black Messiah. Before I plow on. I am aware that casting a British actor as the American activist and head of the Illinois Black Panther movement Fred Hampton ruffled a few feathers, but Daniel Kaluuya is sublime as the young revolutionary socialist. To prove a point, he walked home with pretty much every major award for his portrayal. And deservedly so.
JATBM (much easier to type) follows the true story of how the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers was infiltrated by the F.B.I. The curmudgeonly J. Edgar Hoover, wonderfully portrayed by the incredible Martin Sheen, was intent on stopping the Black Panthers in their tracks. By helping a young thief by the name of Bill O’Neal avoid prison time for car theft, the F.B.I managed to find their informant. I will not spoil the ending for you if you are as unfamiliar with the events as I was. But I will tell you that the film is bookended by an original interview with O’Neal, who overtly carries the weight of the betrayal on his shoulders.
Living in terror, O’Neal is equally as fearful of the retribution of his fellow Black Panthers as he is of a stiff prison sentence. The relationship between him and his F.B.I boss is cleverly used to express doubts on both sides regarding the questionable tactics employed to spy on the movement. As the film progresses we see both men realise they are mere pawns in a game where there are no rules.
I love cinema that informs. Films that shine a light on people in history who have suffered injustice, or shown fantastic courage but somehow seem to have gone unnoticed by the majority of the population. I only became aware of the name Fred Hampton while watching the incredible ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’. In that film, we see how he is wrongfully accused by the judicial system, but I had no idea to what extent.
This film is equally as well made. The acting is superb, the locations evocative and the soundtrack simply spiffing. I got my phone out on several occasions to use that wonderful app ‘Shazam’. Many new additions to my music catalogue thank you muchly. H.E.R even won an Oscar for the best original song with the very groovy “Fight For You”. In fact, the soundtrack was so good I was occasionally a little distracted! However, the sad and gripping storyline reeled me back in every time.
I have watched several films recently where the subject matter ought to live happily in the past, but is as prescient as ever. Sadly JATBM falls into that category. You may never have heard of Fred Hampton, but I would be very surprised if the name George Floyd meant nothing to you. Incredibly, half a century later Police brutality, racism and corruption are still commonplace. And not just in America. This film speaks to us all.