FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois Black Panther Party and is tasked with keeping tabs on their charismatic leader, Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). A career thief, O’Neal revels in the danger of manipulating both his comrades and his handler, Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). Hampton’s political prowess grows just as he’s falling in love with fellow revolutionary Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback). Meanwhile, a battle wages for O’Neal’s soul. Will he align with the forces of good? Or subdue Hampton and The Panthers by any means, as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) commands?
Judas and the Black Messiah treads on familiar territory, but it’s never been done quite like this before, the added trauma of being released at a time in our American history when these stories ring even more true is unfortunate and eye opening.
This is really a story about William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) and his journey from a man with his back against the wall, to a true-life Judas who had no choice but to be a weapon against his will. The film doesn’t show enough of his life or even Chairman Fred’s (Daniel Kaluuya) life, while the film is horrific is it unveils the FBI’s plan and how they treated anyone of color at the time, there was definitely room for the film to go a little bit deeper into those relationships. The outcome is that it plays as a series of vignettes, even though it is a cohesive story and shows the time line of Fred’s rise in the Black Panther’s and his ultimate demise at the hands of O’Neal. Another half hour of uncovering the ups and downs of that relationships could really have brought more to the story.
There is more than enough to enjoy as Kaluuya and Stanfield turn in career best performances and Jesse Plemmons quietly puts in some work as O’Neal’s handler in the FBI. Director Shaka King brings this powerful and important story to life with a deftness behind that camera that will surely lead to more feature length films.
Judas and the Black Messiah made history this year by being the first film with an all-black producing team nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category. Releasing in stores on Blu-ray and DVD on May 4th, already available to rent or buy on digital.
Features on Blu-Ray
- “Fred Hampton for the People” – The filmmakers and cast discuss why telling Chairman Fred Hampton’s story is more important now than ever before.
- “Unexpected Betrayal” – The filmmakers and cast discuss William O’Neil’s complexities and his eventual betrayal of Hampton
Features on DVD
- “Fred Hampton for the People”
Running Time: 126 minutes
Rated R for Violence and pervasive language