*There are spoilers ahead*
I watched Judas and the Black Messiah on HBO Max before it left the streaming service on March 14th. As a long-time subscriber to Entertainment Weekly, I found interest in the film after they printed a cover story on it in the magazine. The story is about Fred Hampton, a charismatic chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Before watching this movie, I knew practically nothing about the Black Panther Party and I had never heard of Fred Hampton. The movie tells the story of how the Chairman was fighting for civil rights in the sixties and how the FBI was involved in his assassination.
The movie had a dual focus on both Fred Hampton and William “Bill” O’Neal played by Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield respectively. The FBI was concerned about Hampton and his charisma and stances on civil rights. They believed he was the most dangerous person in America because he had the magnetism of Martin Luther King Jr. and was not afraid to use a gun. In response to this figure, they brought in Bill O’Neal who was arrested for stealing a car and impersonating a federal officer. To avoid these charges, Bill was sent as an informant for the FBI to try to take down the Black Panther Party and especially Fred Hampton.
With no prior knowledge of these events, the film acts as a history teacher to most viewers, but instead of an old white man telling you that America is the greatest country in the world, it is Black people telling you why America is not. I learned that the Black Panther Party supported a free breakfast program for children and a free health clinic for those who could not afford healthcare. These programs are an integrated part of life today, showing Hampton’s impact on the world before his life was cut short.
Judas and the Black Messiah follows O’Neal as he learns that the Black Panther Party is fighting for what he believes in, despite the FBI telling him they are dangerous and evil people. We see his journey as he realizes that Fred Hampton is not a terrorist and the emotional toll that being an informant takes. The film causes you to realize with O’Neal that Fred Hampton may be dangerous, but that may not be a bad thing. His causes are ones that many people are still fighting for today.
The biblical allusion to Judas’ betrayal makes the story hit closer to home for most people. As the title suggests, O’Neal is Judas and Hampton is Jesus, bringing up new ideas for Black rights. However, unlike the Bible, Hampton never rose again. He was 21 years old when the FBI assassinated him. He had a partner who was weeks away from giving birth and a whole life ahead of him.
The final scene of the film depicts a Last Supper-like scene where all of the members of the party are gathered together, unaware of the tragedy that would strike that very night. We see O’Neal drug Hampton’s drink, making it so he would not wake when the FBI stormed the apartment, shooting everyone they could. This scene is deeply upsetting when you realize that this was a true event. Hampton’s partner, Deborah Johnson, tries to wake him up as everyone in the house gets killed around her. You see her as they take her out and threaten to kill her and her unborn baby. The camera focuses on her face as she hears the shot that kills the Black messiah. This scene is horrifying and traumatizing to watch and it creates rage and grief within the audience. It summarizes why this is an important story for people to know.
Fred Hampton deserved to live. The FBI should not be able to sanction an assassination on an American citizen they deem to be dangerous by their racist standards. They believed he would have destroyed this “great” nation, but he only sought to better it for the people that look like him. Presently, the racial tensions in this nation have not improved greatly, which means that this story still matters. However, there will always be people like Chairman Hampton who will fight for the rights of equality, despite history telling them that there is a high likelihood that they will be killed. Judas and the Black Messiah showed its audience why it is important to keep fighting for equality and the importance of Fred Hampton’s story.