The 2021 Best Picture Nominees: Judas and the Black Messiah

| April 18, 2021

At last!  After, arguably, the strangest year in movie history, The 93rd Academy Awards are almost here – just 9 days from now.  And to get ready, I’m taking a look at each of the eight films selected as Oscar’s best.  Are they?  Are they really?

In the wake of Black Lives Matter and the visibility wrought from #oscarsowhite, it was perhaps inevitable that eventually we had to start talking about Fred Hampton.  His is an important story – he was an eloquent revolutionary socialist who came to prominence as the chairman of the Illinois chapter of The Black Panther and helped to forward the progress of his people with social programs and an alliance of young black citizens that he hoped would result in a massive social change.  Then, of course, he was targeted by the FBI who investigated him as a dangerous radical and murdered him in his bed.  The story is one that needs to be told.  I only wish it were told in a better movie.

Buried somewhere in Judas and the Black Messiah is Hampton’s story.  He’s played here in a fiery performance by Daniel Kaluuya (which, for some reason, was nominated in the supporting category) who captures Hampton’s mesmerizing ability to move people with words.  The problem is that his story, written by director Shaka King and Will Berson, has taken a very safe route of a police caper, dealing largely with the story of how Bill O’Neil (nominee LaKeith Stanfield) was arrested for impersonating a federal officer and given a deal by the FBI to be an informant.

O’Neil’s betrayal lays at the heart of this story.  The problem is that the story isn’t written well enough at the character level to make it work – it repeats it’s point over and over.  The players in this story are always at a distance so we never really get involved in their relationships and when the hammer finally falls it feels more perfunctory than shocking.  When it was over, I felt that I had seen parts of a bigger movie that was cut down to get to the most interesting parts and the part that was left out was Hampton himself.  Kaluuya is so good in this role that I could have just watched him for another hour.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized