Daniel Kaluuya

In "Judas and the Black Messiah," Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, chairman of a Black Panther Party chapter and civil rights activists who often goes unrecognized. ("Daniel Kaluuya" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Warner Bros. Studio hasn’t exactly been on a roll. With the mediocre releases that were “Wonder Woman 1984” and “The Little Things,” they have been in desperate need of a win.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” came through for them.

The film, directed and produced by Shaka King, is available to stream on HBO Max. It stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, chairman of a Black Panther Party chapter based in Illinois, and LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal, an FBI informant.

The biographical drama tells the real life story of Hampton’s rise to prominence as a civil rights figure through the perspective of O’Neal, a Black man working for the FBI to avoid prison after being arrested for carjacking.

The FBI, determined to infiltrate and bring down the Black Panthers organization in the late 1960s, tasks O’Neal with getting close to Hampton. 

Meanwhile, Hampton works to improve the Black community through things like breakfast programs, education and brokering peace between street gangs.

Hampton went on to form the Rainbow Coalition, a radical socialist movement which included the Young Patriots Organization, a group of White socialist southerners, and the Young Lords, a LatinX turf-gang turned civil rights organization.

While the movie focuses on the civil rights aspect heavily, its no-punches-drawn criticism of the U.S. government and its willingness to portray radical socialism in a positive light are what make it so impactful. 

Add into that the compelling narrative that the directors weave with a true story, and “Judas and the Black Messiah” becomes one of the best civil-rights movies to date. 

By retroactively turning a figure like Fred Hampton, a niche name in the civil rights movement, into the martyr and civil rights hero he deserved to be and should have always been, the movie does its best to rectify the mistakes of mainstream media that continue even into today.

Most outlets and production studios throughout history have shirked the responsibility to cover radical socialist figures in a fair light from fear of retribution or in their own self-interest. Warner Bros. Studios made the right decision in this case, and the result is a resounding success.

Stanfield and Kaluuya, who have clearly thrived in movies that critique social and racial injustice such as “Get Out,” “Selma” and “Sorry to Bother You” were perfect casting choices for the movie. 

Jesse Plemons, an actor known for the hate and pity he inspires through his roles, was also an ideal casting choice for a role that would have been otherwise unimpactful had anyone else played it.

Overall, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a striking movie that provides both entertainment and a history lesson about the Malcolm X side of the civil rights movement. While MLK’s actions are often credited with moving the fight for civil rights forward, it’s undeniable that Malcolm X and the Black Panthers played a huge role in gaining ground towards equality behind the scenes.