I'm a tough critic. YET: I'd give this movie a 5-star rating. It was excellent, especially considering the topic. (It was a movie about the political activism and murder of Fred Hampton, chair of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party, by the FBI in 1969). As good as it was, I have 5 little qualms that I'd like to share about it...
1. THE TITLE
The title of this movie is "Judas and the Black Messiah".
I'm well aware of the significance of the term/gist of 'Black Messiah' (https://shec.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/814) as it's been used by anti-black, afrophobic, white supremacists in US politics. Check out one of the goals of the FBI as written by J. Edgar Hoover (does that name sound familiar? It should: he was the director of the FBI):
2. "Prevent the RISE OF A “MESSIAH” who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a “messiah;” he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism. Carmichael has the necessary charisma to be a real threat in this way."
Want more? Just check out the 1978 National Security Council's Memorandum 46 ("The Range of Policy Options" section) where they essentially talk about how they want to systematically prevent the rise of a Black Messiah:
"...(c) to preserve the present climate which inhibits the emergence from within the Black leadership of a person capable of exerting nationwide appeal..."
Considering the following:
A ) Bill O'Neal's (the snitch) behavior
B ) The protestant nature of the USA's religious affinities
C ) The use of the term 'Messiah' (an alias for Jesus Christ)
It is also fitting to liken O'Neil to Judas (one of Jesus' disciples in the bible who betrayed him. He was paid 30 pieces of silver to hand over Jesus Christ to the pigs of the their day.).
But altogether, if we deconstruct the title (Judas and the Black Messiah), and the concept of the 'Black Messiah', it implies the following:
A) That the 'Messiah' (a term that is a functional alias for Jesus Christ) is some other race than Black
B) That Judas (as presented, as a Black man) is indeed Judas as he is (because there was no racial qualifier for Judas). Forget about whether or not 'Black Judas and the Black Messiah' would have sounded better than 'Judas and the Black Messiah' for a second:
Judas was an infamous snitch and betrayer. Therefore, one could argue that the implications of abstaining from racially qualifying his identity (as was done with the Messiah) would mean that these properties would be attributed to whomever we were shown was Judas. There is a LONG history of Black people (and African) people being portrayed as immoral (i.e. the coon/buck troupes espoused through the thief, robber, gangster stereotypes). Knowing what I do about the context into which this title was introduced made me wince a little. I perceived it as an insult that stung. Especially since the Messiah (Jesus Christ) DID have Black features such as brown skin and dark hair. HOW ELSE could he have escaped to Egypt with his parents and blended in with the Africans there (KJV Matthew 2: 13–23) two millennia ago???
And don't get me started on how the concept blackness in general has been mired in immorality and dysfunctionality (ex. a "black" heart, "black" lung disease, etc.) thanks to racists looking to exalt themselves.
2. IT CAME OUT DURING COVID-19
I don't know if it's a coincidence or not that that the movie came out during COVID-19, but I know that the fact that it did will hurt the movie at the box office. More importantly, I feel that this is a movie that lots of people should see. However, due to the restrictions that states have placed on excursion sites during COVID-19, I fear it will not reach as wide an audience as it should have.
3. BEING SUBJECTED TO WATCHING A PIG STRUGGLE THROUGH A MORAL DILEMMA
The pig that was O'Neal's handler was given too much emphasis in this story. The entire thing could have been done without us having to see him struggle through his ethical dilemmas. He had two:
A) Realizing that he was as hard-core a racist as his bosses.
B) Grappling with how wrong it was to dehumanize his mole (Bill O'Neal) for the sake of upholding white supremacy.
We didn't need to see him pick what we knew he was going to pick (white supremacy). I perceived the inclusion of this element as an insensitive type of harassment. I don't care about the intent of any of the colonizers who played the adversarial roles that they did in COINTELLPRO. What matters is: 1) what they did, and 2) what the impact of those actions were.
4. THE SHOOT-OUT SCENE BETWEEN THE BPP AND THE CHICAGO PIGS
In the movie, they had the Black Panther Party (BPP) fire shots at the police first. In the grand scheme of things, this is a trivial matter because we know who the real oppressors and aggressors are (the pigs from the Chicago PD that laid siege to their office and the powers that placed them there). But a lot of lazy, obtuse, or simple-minded people could be going to watch this movie. How would they see that scene since the BPP fire shots first?
Simple: "Don't start no stuff, won't be no stuff."
Or, in other words, "yEaH, tHe CoPs ShOuLdN'T hAvE bLoWn Up ThEiR oFfIcE, bUt tHe BpP wErE tHe OnEs WhO fIrEd FiRsT! wHy StAgE a ShOoT-OuT wItH tHe CoPs If YoU kNoW yOu CaN't WiN???'
Just the mere fact that a dummy or two might be sitting in an audience somewhere thinking that irritates me. Entire movies are put out where the white man is "in the right" from start to finish. But I get tired of seeing Black people have to compromise (always play the bad guy somehow) in this regard. (On that note, I guess Spike Lee got tired too, because the number of concessions he made in his movie Black KKKlansman was quite unlike him.)
5. A VERBAL OMISSION DURING THE EXECUTION SCENE
From what I heard about the murder of Fred Hampton, when the FBI completed murdering him in his bed, the line included a racial slur, so that it was to the effect of "This n****r's good and dead now." But there was no racial slur in the line in the movie. They had the fed say: "He's good and dead now." or something like that.
At the time, I felt that including the slur would have been a powerful example of the human element in institutional racism. But for some reason, it was left out. It was quite clear to me that this movie was created after extensive research. Perhaps the producers and writers felt that they didn't find enough evidence to corroborate the use of this slur by the murderers in blue?
What do you think?