note: I’d like to begin by saying this is purely for therapeutic purposes, as I have been dealing with this topic in my head ever since I saw the trailer. Also, I’d like to make it clear that I am solely reacting to the trailer that was released and nothing more.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a film focused on the assassination of prominent Black Activist and Revolutionary Socialist, Fred Hampton. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton and Lakeith Stanfield as William O’Neal, the FBI informant who’s responsible for aiding police floorplans to Hampton’s location. Shaka King directs the film, this being his first “major” release, and is produced by Ryan Coogler and is written by Shaka King, Will Berson, and oddly enough, The Lucas Bros share a “story by” credit.
Simply from browsing the credits, one could conclude that this is a black film being told by black creatives (excluding Will) “for” black people. From the trailer, Daniel’s performance as Fred looks engrossing. Lakeith’s melancholy babyface will break hearts once that final moment comes. “Powerhouse,” “visceral,” and “important” are all words I see being splayed across its’ Oscar trailer comes. And there lies my problem.
As I was watching the trailer, I had a moment where I realized that what I was watching was incredible actors tell an incredibly important story, but nothing else. WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS MOVIE? Is it to show the complexities of the justice system and how they manipulate young black men into situations that betray their community? Is it a discussion about ‘all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk’ in the black community, and just because they’re the same color, doesn’t mean they always align with your ideals? Is it just a by-the-books retelling of the story of his assassination?
I wrote a similar piece about sacrificing black culture and storytelling for the ‘art of film.’ I don’t believe people are going to see this film and become enlightened and go out and read up on Hampton’s works. I think people are going to enjoy the MOVIE that they’re watching. They’re going to praise the ACTORS for ACTING WELL IN A MOVIE. My frustration comes from the faux-like depth of telling a story about Fred Hampton. Bro, I’m a 30-year-old black man, I don’t NEED to see Fred Hampton being set up by his people. And not even his people. The FBI. Are they going to show how O’Neal became an informant because the FBI caught him driving a stolen car across state lines? Are they going to show how they manipulated a 17-YEAR-OLD BOY into infiltrating and help take down one of the most influential black leaders we had? Are they going to do all of that and not mention or incorporate Fred’s works and show the corruptness of the system he was attempting to dismantle?
It just seems like I’m going to be watching Fred Hampton be assassinated again, and I honestly don’t need to see that. I don’t want white people to see this and feel like they’re making a difference because they’re able to view radical blacks from a safe distance. I don’t want black people to see this and become reminded that all of our heroes are dead, and THEY killed them.