There has been a resurgence and awakened interest in The Black Panther movement and those at the forefront like Chairman Fred Hampton and Bobby Seale was seen in various projects like Sam Pollard’s The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (now streaming on Netflix) and Roger Guenveur Smith’s recreation of his one-man show A Huey P. Newton Story and now Shaka King’s Judas and The Black Messiah. No doubt, mostly recently fueled by Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 on heels of unwarranted and untimely deaths of Rayshard Brooks and George Floyd to name a few.
On MLK Day in 1990, on PBS, “Eyes On The Prize 2” premiered with William O’Neal giving his first and only on-screen interview where he literally said, “…I think I’ll let history speak for itself.” Later that evening, he took his own life. Why? Judas and The Black Messiah gives us insight into the psyche of this man, how he was introduced and how his contribution led to a horrific and brutal assassination of Chairman Fred Hampton while he slept.
Who was William O’Neal? He was a hustler, active member of the Black Panther Party and a paid FBI informant until early 1970’s, earning the equivalent of what would be over 200,000 dollars today. Capitalizing, perpetuating and fueling FBI lies, who likened the Panthers to the Klan – belieiving that both groups were gleeful to incite hatred by division amongst race and class. To let money, greed, jealousy and personal gain lead you down a path inn which rolling over on your own feels like a solid choice, is a lesson O’Neal learned far too late in life.
Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield own every frame of this film with their powerhouse performances. Each marking their stamp on men who are integral to the history of Black people in America. As Fred Hampton, Kaluuya mesmerizes with an opening monologue so powerful, prolific, raw and real that you would swear Chairman Fred had come back for one last inspirational sermon. When a brotha’ gets up and walks out of his speech, Hampton remarks, “…that daishiki ain’t gonna help you when they come with them tanks…political power doesn’t flow from the sleeve of a daishiki, but from the barrel of a gun,” chills ran through my body. It resonated even more strongly today than it did then. From the 70’s to now, methodology in which our government dogmatically encouraged systemic racism under our previous Presidential Administration is categorically embarrassing as a country – yet catching sectors of Americans with the pants down around their ankles for all to see is more revealing than not.
Hardly ever seeing the focus on woman during these various stories about the Panthers, unless the focus is on Angela Davis, it was nice to see how Hampton met, fell in love and was protected to the bitter end by the love of his life Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), where she literally threw her body on top as a shield during the raid in 1970. Fred Hampton was 21 years old and Mark Clark (who was also slain) was only 22. 99 gunshots were fired by the Chicago PD and Panthers fired once during that raid. The seven survivors faced numerous charges, including attempted murder.
After 12 years of fighting for justice, those survivors, along with Clark’s Mom, filed a lawsuit alleging a conspiracy among FBI, Chicago Police Department and State’s Attorney to assassinate Fred Hampton. The case was settled for 1.85 million, and considered the longest civil trial in United States history during that time.
Judas and The Black Messiah is a story that needed to told, shared and told again. Thanks to Shaka King, this chapter of history has been forever immortalized proving as an adage that has become all too prevalent since the January 6th insurrection of our Nation and it’s Capitol Building – War is politics with bloodshed and politics is war without bloodshed. Will we ever witness a world where politics, money and greed no longer prevail over the commonality to just honor each and every person as a valid, human being contributing to the greater good of society and the world. Probably not – but one can dream. Judas and the Black Messiah is produced by Warner Brothers and currently streaming on HBO Max.