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Judas and the Black Messiah: Brotherhood and Betrayal

Released last February, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is a surprising documentary film, although the overall plot leaves ample scope for reinterpretation. Directed by Shaka King, the work strives to analyse a historical period not only rather heated and controversial, but also often considered - erroneously - now cleared of customs. Focusing - through the masterful interpretation of Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield - on the bitter clash that involved America in the 1960s, the film traces the efforts of anti-racist movements that arose after the murders of the two most famous Afro-American leaders, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

The work is not at all casual, on the contrary: the plot focuses on the murder of the barely twenty-year-old Fred Hampton, guide and, in a certain sense, prophet of the division of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, for all intents and purposes betrayed by one of the most trusted "brothers" Young William O'Neal.

Shaka King’s choice is definitely right, the work in fact expresses an authorial maturity which is necessary for the reconstruction of a really occurred historical event: while exasperating the drama of what reported, the film does not take sides with either the victim or the executioner, but is likely to focus on the coercive influence the FBI exerted on the young man, forcing him to an increasingly forced collaboration that resulted, in conclusion, with Hampton’s tragic murder and, subsequently, O’ Neil’s apparent suicide.

The scenario reported outlines at times extremely raw racial stigma that characterized and still grips the United States, highlighting government and secret services commitment to suppress the progressive thrust of anti-racist movements - which at the time were directly associated with the pro-communist currents repressed in the American democratic bloc states. The movements that fought, both literally and peacefully, for Afro-American minorities’ rights, were immediately identified with a dangerous enemy inherent in the national borders, to be eradicated by any means, even at the cost of resorting to the notorious oppressive practices of fascist inspiration.

The "Black Messiah" portrayed in King’s film, in fact, embraces Marxist-Leninist ideals and alternates his activity of resistance between the cultural sphere and the armed struggle. The young leader is well aware that this cannot be enough for the liberation, or at least for the acquisition of the fundamental rights of African Americans, but that it is the schooling and education given to the young people of their own city that makes the difference in the emancipation of an oppressed people. Hampton is also responsible, through the party, to cover the expenses of the most needy families and to offer a catering service for those who need it. However, this does not prove to be enough to prevent him from being portrayed as a threat to national security: his charismatic oratory, more than anything else, is substantiated for national security agencies and secret services in a source of suspicion and fear.

In conclusion, “Judas and the Black Messiah” is daring in his mission, telling the racial segregation from a very original and perhaps unpopular point of view, without losing the charge of drama which is decisive in the storytelling of the film. Not only historical fidelity - which, as previously pointed out, does not turn to extreme perfectionism - dominates, but especially the emotion that, blending itself excellently with the historical context, allows the director to churn out an excellent product. King does not limit himself to resorting to seemingly unpopular choices, even though he does not renounce the appeal to the general public to whom a reference work like this can yearn.

Articolo a cura di: Antonino Palumbo

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