Judas and the Black Messiah was a film that told the story of Fred Hampton’s rise and fall as a political voice for the Black Panthers.
“The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black messiah from among their midst.” The impactful speech from the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (played by Martin Sheen) in 1968 set the stage for the movie from its onset. The film, which debuted yesterday in theaters and on HBO Max, is part crime thriller, part civil-rights historical drama. It tells the story of the rise of the Black Panther Party’s deputy chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), and the informant who helped the FBI orchestrate his assassination, Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield).
Judas, directed by Shaka King, profoundly illuminates COINTELPRO’s legacy of repressing Black freedom movements, the effects of which can still be felt today with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement.
COINTELPRO special agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) brags to O’Neal that he helped investigate the 1964 murders of the civil-rights heroes James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner by the Ku Klux Klan, he asserts, “The Panthers and the Klan are one and the same. Their aim is to sow hatred and inspire terror.” Panthers did exercise their Second Amendment rights to carry guns and, as King shows, engaged in shoot-outs with police in self-defense. But when O’Neal brings Hampton explosives and suggests that they blow up city hall, Hampton responds, “Are you out your mind?”
King’s cinematic choice to show BPP members providing vital resources and services to Black Chicagoans pushes back against the dominant understanding of the Panthers in the American popular imagination: that is, as an organization that wantonly killed police officers and spewed hatred against white people in an effort to foment the Black revolution.
Fred Hampton Jr. partook in an interview on the legendary rap group, Geto Boys, own podcast to speak about the propaganda used in the film to fight Cointelpro. Check out what he had to say below.