“Judas and the Black Messiah” and the de-radicalizing revolutionaries

Shaka King’s film “Judas and the Black Messiah” premiered on February 12 and received rave reviews and a Golden Globe award. The film tells the story of the assassination of the President of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton. The film follows Bill O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield, as an FBI informant whose betrayal of Hampton led to his murder. While the film is extremely well made and acted out, with Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Hampton being notable and winning a Golden Globe for the actor, the film seems hesitant to show the full spectrum of Hampton and Black ideology. Panther Party.

In the film, Hampton talks about achieving socialism and being a socialist revolutionary. While this is accurate for Hampton and is not out of place, it does not take into account the film’s audience. “Socialism” has become increasingly popular among many young people in the United States in recent years. However, the ideology of socialism adopted by these young people is largely not that of Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party. Let’s put that aside: Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party, including individuals like Assata Shakur, Huey P. Newton, and Angela Davis, were Communists, especially Marxist-Leninists. They did not espouse socialism as conceived by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America. As Hampton recites quotes from revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, it happens so quickly that even though I recognized the quotes, I was unsure at first whether or not the movie recognized who said them. This might leave the public thinking that the Black Panthers were essentially Bernie Bros with guns who took on a more militant stance during the Civil Rights movement, but were fundamentally more radical in appearance and rhetoric, and believed the same things as these modern young people. people. This is not the truth however. Hampton and the Party were much more likely to criticize and be themselves criticized by such modern figures and organizations. This quote from Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin sums up quite well the phenomena we have just described: campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them … depriving revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary advantage and popularizing it.

Another way the film largely mitigates the revolutionary character of Hampton and his organization is in the nature of the story itself. Hampton himself is not really the main character. Instead, O’Neal is the main character, and the film follows his moral crisis as a man who is supposed to betray someone he learns to respect. Now, I’ll let you judge the idea of ​​a movie asking us to sympathize with someone who is essentially an undercover cop, while at the same time asking us to support characters who are against the police and the forces. American order in general. But also it just seems to present itself as a way to protect the public. If the film was told from Hampton’s point of view, it would be difficult to hide the Communist ideology of the man. It really seems like the filmmakers are trying to protect the audience from knowing that the hero of the film is a communist, because they don’t think that we as an audience will be mature enough to sympathize with a political radical. This is a major issue because just as important as acknowledging the role of the US government in sabotaging the civil rights movement, which the film does in a line referring to evidence showing the possibility that the US government may have been involved. in the assassinations of Martin. Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, present the honest truth about why Hampton was murdered in the first place, much of which was his ideology.

But it wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t fit into a larger pattern in American movies of taking figures and movements that are too dangerous for the status quo to be accurately portrayed. In “Invictus” and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”, two films about Nelson Mandela, no reference is made to Mandela’s passage to the South African Communist Party, the main reason for his long imprisonment. In the excellent documentary “13th”, a film about the long history of systemic racism in the United States, no mention is made of the radical ideology of the Black Panthers. They even interview Angela Davis and use several archive clips of her, but none of the many clips where Davis espouses her Marxist views. Of course, every MLK day we are told about Dr. King’s message of racial reconciliation and so on. In this narrative, King fits well with the liberal consensus and can be presented as the model of activism. Yet we are usually never shown quotes like this: “Capitalism does not allow a steady flow of economic resources. With this system, a privileged few are rich beyond consciousness, and almost everyone else is doomed to be poor at some level. This is how the system works. And since we know the system won’t change the rules, we’re going to have to change the system. However, there are alternatives.

Spike Lee’s film “Malcolm X”, while having its own flaws, puts the eponymous figure center stage and thanks to excellent directing and writing by Lee and an absolutely masterful performance by Denzel Washington. Malcolm’s ideas can be promoted and accepted by an audience. “Che”, directed by Steven Soderbergh, presents the Argentinian Marxist-Leninist in what is in my opinion the best representation of a radical figure in American cinema. No excuse is given to Guevara or his ideology. Instead, the film portrays Che in the harshest, most humane terms. Its ideology is clear. His actions are shown and not praised or condemned. This is how to honestly present a radical figure like Hampton. Show us the person without swaying one way or the other and let the audience see the whole person. Thanks to the skillful directing and performance of “Judas and the Black Messiah”, this was entirely possible. But until radical personalities receive the mature and honest treatment they deserve, we’re likely going to see society get the misconception that these radicals weren’t that different from the status quo, a view supported by the great. Hollywood.

Thelma J. Longworth

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