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Judas & The Black Messiah, Black Power Reloaded



Judas & The  Black Messiah

Starring  Daniel Kaluuya,Lakeith Stanfield,Jesse Plemons,Dominique Fishback,Martin Sheen

Directed  by  Shaka King

Rating: **

If I had to choose one word to describe this passionate but pale film on the Black Power movement,  it would have to be ‘overrated’. If I had to choose two words it would be ‘terribly overrated’. Firstly, we’ve lately suffered  an overkill of films about Black Power and racism. This could be reflective the American reality post  the death of  Black man by  the police that  shook the  world’s conscience. These  films  attempt to put up a show of balanced arguments, but end up making the  white characters  look like the racists that they  probably were. But then  any movement, black or white, must have a  dissenting perspective

 In  Judas & The Black Messiah, the Black Messiah  is  black activist Fred Hampton, who spearheaded the  Black Panther  movement  in Chicago and was  brought down by police brutality.  As   played by  Daniel Kaluuya, Hampton   comes across as  more aloof, almost bored, rather than passionate. Kaluuya, who has been praised for his  performance by western critics, is  eminently inadequate in  the  role, so much so that we  only have  to believe what we are told about him.

Lakeith Stanfield as  the ‘Judas’ from the title, the  FBI infiltrator who betrays  his black brothers  is  far more cogent  in the  tightly-wound cat-and-mouse game, though his role and character seems to owe a  direct allegiance to  Matt Damon in Martin Scorcese’s The Departed . Betrayal can be an awful  guilt to bear.And we are  told that  the real  Stanfield eventually committed suicide.

 While the  periodicity (the 1960s)  registers itself  in  the  plot with a nodding assurance,the  narrative is groomed into a kind of cultivated crisis that doesn’t have a  proper  timeline  or chronological  progression in  the film. It all appears highly sincere but not  convincing enough. Part  of the problem is  the  budget which seems to limit the  depiction of mob sequences and  the  police-protester  riots. 

 Director  Shaka  King’s inexperience  in  the epic  universe shows  in almost every frame. He is far more comfortable staging radical debates and dialogues indoors, or trying to capture the  shy awkwardness  between Hampton and his speechwriter  Deborah(Dominique Fishbank) as they fall in love.

 There is a savage police-protesters  shootout  at the end  which will leave you gasping for breath. And not out of awe. But because  it distils the act  of atrocity by scaling down its visual scale.Judas &  The  Black Messiah could have been a  much  bigger  and far more deeply affecting film than what it is:  a call for justice in a  voice that raises itself  too high to serve its ambitions.

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