JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH – Review by Susan Granger

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Commemorating Black History Month, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah focuses on the rise to power of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and the betrayal that led to his death at age 21 by the F.B.I., working with informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield).

Bill O’Neal was a petty crook, arrested for car theft in Chicago in 1968, using a fake FBI badge. Since he was obviously skilled at impersonation, he’s recruited by FBI agent Roy Martin Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to infiltrate the Panthers and bring Hampton down.

Paranoid FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) was acutely aware that charismatic Hampton could unite potential rivals – Chicago street gangs, Puerto Rican groups, even white neo-Confederates – in a multicultural Rainbow Coalition.

Since Hampton’s inflammatory oratory rhetoric included exhortations to kill “pigs,” Hoover calls the Panthers as “the single greatest threat to our national security.”

Utilizing detailed information provided by O’Neal, Hampton was killed on December 4, 1969, exactly 20 months after the previous “Black Messiah,” Dr. Martin Luther King. Thus, the title’s Biblical allusion.

And the predawn raid on Hampton’s apartment – while he was sleeping next to his pregnant girlfriend, poet/speechwriter Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) – evokes Breonnna Taylor’s murder last year.

Director Shaka King co-wrote the script with Will Berson from Keith & Kenny Lucas’ story, creating a biographical drama that’s remarkably relevant in contextualizing the current Black Lives Matter movement as it relates to policing and the justice system.

“We’ve heard the rallying cry for justice and equality from more voices than ever before,” notes Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominee for Best Supporting Actor. “As actors, it’s on us to keep our voices raised. To tell our stories – Black stories – and to show these stories are vital…more vital than ever.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Judas and the Black Messiah is an intense, insidious, infuriating 7 – in select theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.