‘Judas and the Black Messiah’: A fresh outlook on the rise of the Black Panther Party

Illustration by Ariel Walter | The Signal

A war between Black people and law enforcement consummates in the bloodshed of innocent bystanders fighting for a cause. The Black Panther Party organized and echoed throughout history in the film “Judas and the Black Messiah” as the rise and fall of party leader Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya, are brought to life on the big screen.

The Black Panthers have received a very troubling representation by the media since their formation in 1966. Most Americans associate them with terrorist-style tactics that exacerbated violence and racial separatism. This understanding is then opposed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s standard depiction as a peaceful civil rights activist and martyr for the people.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” takes this belief and provides audiences with an entirely new perspective on the Black Panthers and their association with the FBI. Director Shaka King delves deep into the true motives and charity the Black Panthers and many other Black political parties offered during the civil rights movement. Yet, in all of the film’s beauty, its dark undertones are delineated through the portrayal of Black-on-Black crime.

A central theme the film illustrates is law enforcement’s brutal tactics against Black people. However, this historical notion is not the real takeaway from the film. As we start to understand Fred Hampton’s relationship with fellow party member and friend William O’Neil (LaKeith Stanfield), we see that the real issue that broke apart the Black Panther Party stemmed from its own members’ misgivings with….

William O’Neil’s character is fascinating because the FBI offered him a plea deal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party and gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton. His character embodies the awareness of Black-on-Black crime within the civil rights movement and its devastating effects on the Black community.

The film then touches on other Black political parties within the city fighting for the same cause. However, each of these groups were separated by violence and hatred toward each other. The film identifies this to display even more hatred within the Black community, creating setbacks toward the movement.

This anger is later turned into the probable cause as the political parties decide to unite against their common enemy. They created a sense of poetic justice within the Black community as their animosity turned into respect for one another.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” deals heavily with the issue of police brutality and can be drawn upon with the problems facing Black people in modern society. With the recent death of George Floyd and the rise of the political movement “Black Lives Matter,” films of this subject matter are ever so important right now.