Judas and the Black Messiah first grabbed our attention with that fiery first trailer in 2020, but it was the second that gave us a better look at the human-sized hopes, fears, and concerns that really drive the characters – and the movie itself.
Deborah Johnson’s tender poetry, Fred Hampton’s impassioned rhetoric, and the FBI’s deceptively reasonable-sounding proposition braid together to paint a picture of a movement on the verge of brilliant progress or devastating tragedy, while a clock ticks down to their historical fates.
In 1968, 19-year-old petty criminal William “Bill” O’Neal is arrested in Chicago after attempting to steal a car while posing as a federal officer. He is approached by FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell, who offers to have O’Neal’s charges dropped if he works undercover for the bureau. O’Neal is assigned to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and its leader, Fred Hampton.
O’Neal begins to grow close to Hampton, who works to form alliances with rival gangs and militia groups while extending community outreach through the BPP’s Free Breakfast for Children Program. Hampton’s persuasive oratory skills eventually help to form the multiracial Rainbow Coalition. Hampton also falls in love with Deborah Johnson, a fellow BPP member. O’Neal begins to relay intel to Mitchell, who in return compensates him with money. When a fugitive Party member, George Sams, hides out at the local BPP office, O’Neal learns from Mitchell that Sams is an informant whose presence in BPP offices allows the bureau to obtain search warrants.
After Hampton is arrested and imprisoned for allegedly stealing $71 worth of ice cream bars, O’Neal begins to rise through the ranks and is promoted to security captain. When a shootout between the Chicago Police and the BPP occurs at the chapter office, O’Neal sneaks out as the office is bombed by the police. Afterward, O’Neal attempts to quit being an informant but is rejected by Mitchell.
Three months later, Hampton is released from prison while appealing his charges and he reunites with Deborah, now pregnant with his child. A BPP member, Jimmy Palmer, who was hospitalized after being shot by a police officer, is killed while being transferred to another hospital. Enraged upon learning of Jimmy’s death, fellow member Jake Winters engages in a shootout with police, killing several officers before being gunned down himself.
After Hampton’s appeal was rejected, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover orders Hampton be “neutralized” before he returns to prison. Mitchell corners O’Neal into helping with the plan by warning him that the BPP will retaliate against him if they find out he’s an informant, and O’Neal reluctantly agrees to help. O’Neal is later handed a vial of sedatives and ordered to drug Hampton’s drink with it. The next evening, BPP members gather at Hampton’s apartment before he departs for prison. An allied gang leader offers Hampton money for him to flee the country with, but he turns it down and instead orders a trust to be established with the money under Jake’s name. As the evening progresses, O’Neal reluctantly drugs Hampton’s drink and departs soon after. Hours later, officers and agents raid the apartment and shoot Hampton dead. Later, O’Neal meets with Mitchell, who gives him money and a pair of keys to a gas station he now owns. O’Neal attempts to quit again, but reluctantly accepts the money and keys and places them into his pocket.
The film ends with archive footage of Hampton’s speeches, his funeral procession, and an interview O’Neal gave in 1989. The title cards state that O’Neal continued to work as an informant within the BPP before dying by suicide. A lawsuit was filed against the FBI in 1970 and 12 years later was settled for $1.85 million. Today, Fred Hampton Jr. and his mother serve as chairman and board member of the Black Panther Party Cubs.
How to watch: Judas and the Black Messiah is available for rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and more, and will be streaming on HBO Max starting July 1.
DATE PUBLISHED: July 1, 2021
PHOTO CREDIT: thenetnaija.com