Last night I watched Judas and the Black Messiah. I’ve read a lot about the Black Panthers and other 1960s revolutionary groups in my research for Camilla Hall and the Symbionese Liberation Army. I knew of Fred Hampton but did not know his story in great detail. I was completely captivated by this film; I was in tears at the end. SPOILER ALERT: If you know nothing about the BPP and want to see this film, read this post after you see the movie.
Here are some takeaways from my perspective:
- Wow, what a charismatic leader. The BPP had a number of charismatic leaders, such as Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. I have always loved watching clips of them. Fred Hampton is no exception. What is striking is how young he was—just 21. It’s hard to think of a 21-year-old today having such fire and leadership skills.
- The FBI had some really horrible people in their midst. At what point is it OK to sanction murder? J. Edgar Hoover would go to any length to maintain the cultural status quo, even if he had to order the murder of a Black leader.
- I’m also watching The Crown right now, and as I watch that show (I started with Season 4 and am now going back) I keep thinking, “what horrible people.” I see the parallel between the Crown and the FBI. Both are willing to go to any length to protect themselves against perceived threats. It’s the Crown above all else; it’s the government status quo above all else.
- The Symbionese Liberation Army took its rhetoric from a multitude of sources, but I could clearly see its rhetoric in the BPP. Emphasis on revolution, anti-fascism, and helping the poor.
- The order for Hampton’s murder made me think a lot about the way Camilla and five other SLA members died. If they had merely been apprehended and then jailed, would they have become heroes and celebrities for the revolution? The government probably would have wanted them dead instead. Perhaps that explains 500 police officers against the six SLA members on May 17, 1974. Yes, you read that right. In Hampton’s murder, the police fired 99 shots while the BPP got off one shot. Yes, you read that right.
- The movie portrays Fred Hampton as a hero. In many ways, he was. But it’s also a two-hour movie and he’s a complex character who can’t be reduced to simplistic portrayals. I felt great sympathy for him. I also feel great sympathy for Camilla, even though I knew she had committed criminal acts. As readers and viewers, we must recognize our complex emotions and contradictory feelings.
- Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover is simply brilliant.
I recently put this book on my wish list. I am eager to learn more about the BPP.
P.S.: I saw this movie in the theater. Even pre-pandemic I didn’t go to a lot of movies so I can’t remember the last one I went to. I had a feeling it wouldn’t be the most popular movie in Mankato and I was right. My husband and I had the whole theater to ourselves, so I felt pretty safe. This movie now will always have a special place in my memories.