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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

Judas and the Black Messiah (HBO Max)

Do I know who Fred Hampton is? Going in, no. Coming out, no. Do I know who William O'Neal is? Going in, no. Coming out, a little. This is the trouble I have with bio-pics recently. While I applaud Director Shaka King and Writers Keith and Kenny Lucas for their tenacity and audacity to get something like this made, I do feel like I have more questions than answers.

I know I'm part of a small group that feels mixed about this movie, but I guess I have to give my two cents. Simply put, I just don't think I know or, more importantly, understand who these people were. Why is Fred Hampton the Black Messiah? The film never, at least to my own satisfaction, answers this question thus throwing the rest of this into chaos. If we don't establish that Fred Hampton was important and influential enough to warrant this kind of attention from the FBI.

Again, I think there are many laudable aspects of this movie. Daniel Kaluuya has a great performance as the motivating, energizing, yet tender and kind-hearted Fred Hampton even down to the cadence and inflection in Fred's speech. LaKeith Stanfield delivers a another very solid performance although I personally disagree with a few of his choices in playing the Judas - William O'Neal. It is also laudable that we get a counter-movie to the rather normal pro-FBI and law enforcement movie that may allow a wider audience to experience the long-standing abuses in the system that have exploited people from minority communities for years. Finally, this does have a voice, and a rather interesting plot delivery device in the thriller aspect they try to portray for William O'Neal.

Yet, ultimately, that is my issue with this movie. While this movie tries to provide multiple sides of things especially from the context of William O'Neal, I feel that, unless you had a previous working knowledge of this event prior to watching, you wouldn't have learned enough from the movie to really understand what was trying to be said. It also tries to sit on the fence in most situations with a leg in both camps. Is this a William O'Neal movie? Kind of. Is this a Fred Hampton bio-pic? Kind of. Is this a police abuse thriller? Kind of. It never declares a choice to me, and thus why this is uneven which is tragic in itself to me due to how much I was looking forward to seeing this and that I feel it squanders several great performances and a great movie subject.

Overall, this would have to be a B- for me as there are a lot of things to like, but this is somewhat incomplete in my view. Despite some great performances and subject material, I don't get the sense that I really know or understand this much better, and that is a rather unsatisfying feeling.

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