In honor of this year’s Black History History Month, HBO Max released “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The biopic centers around the life of William O’Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield) and how he became an FBI informant and went undercover in the Black Panther party to collect intelligence on the chairmen, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
The film opens in the late 1960’s with William O’Neal posing as an officer in a local bar in an attempt to steal a patron’s car. Though his cover is swiftly blown, O’Neal manages to get away with the car until he is stopped by the police. FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemmons) explains to O’Neil that he is facing 15 months in jail for car theft and 5 years for impersonating a federal agent, but offers to drop the charges against him if he can become an FBI informant and collect intel on the Black Panther Party.
O’Neal accepts the deal, goes undercover as “Wild Bill” and eventually builds a relationship with Fred Hampton. Meanwhile the Black Panthers promote community outreach by establishing the “Free Breakfast for Children” program and forms alliances with rival groups such as the Young Lords and the Young Patriots, forming the “Rainbow Coalition” for the sake of the people.
“What I like most about the movie is that it was really informative. I didn’t know about the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and the Young Patriots Organization working together to encourage a safe community. It was pleasing to see those groups put their differences aside for equality,” said Ciara Jones, Delaware State University student.
“It was intense. I learned alot about Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, but I never knew how he died and the circumstances behind his death,” said Junadah Anderson.
Overtime, O’Neal forms a bond with Hampton and the Panthers, rises through the ranks of the Black Panthers and is made security captain. However, the pressure of the position makes him second guess his investigation and is becoming increasingly difficult for him to remain calm and not blow his cover.
“It was hard to watch William O’Neal continuously have a meltdown trying to stay undercover because he really only wanted a car,” said Quanda Campbell, 27, after watching the movie.
Eventually after Hampton is released from prison, Mitchell orders O’Neal to put a hit out on Hampton. O’Neal hesitantly drugs Hampton’s drink with a sedative which puts Hampton to sleep. Once Hampton is sedated and in a vegetative state, the police raids the office of the Black Panthers and kills him in his sleep.
Some critics appraise the film for its authenticity and storyline.
“A powerful, and candidly sympathetic, political biography with contemporary relevance,” says Joe Morgenstem from the Wall Street Journal.