The Oscar nominations were announced earlier this morning, so this is perfect timing for this mini-story before I get to my review.
When my wife and I watched Judas and the Black Messiah, she told me that she believed Lakeith Stanfield was excellent in his role, which I agreed. She said he should definitely get an Oscar nomination, to which I explained that it would be unlikely for him to get one at this point since he had been shut out of other big-time award shows this year like the SAGs and the BAFTAs. She wasn’t really trying to hear that, though, and continued to speak praises for him.
Well folks, as you already know, the wife is just about always right. This morning, LaKeith Stanfield rightfully received his first Oscar nomination of his career for Best Supporting Actor in Judas is the Black Messiah.
My only argument in the conversation was that even though Stanfield was excellent in his portrayal of Bill O’Neal, a black man hired by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther party in the 1970s, Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal of Black Panther party leader Fred Hampton stole the show. Kaluuya was absolutely captivating in this role. As a viewer, I couldn’t take my eyes off him on screen. My ears listened intently to every syllable of every word he spoke. He completely captured the charisma that the real Fred Hampton exuded. In addition to this role, Kaluuya’s brilliance specifically in Get Out and Widows has propelled him into becoming one of my favorite actors in Hollywood today. He has reached must-see status.
All of those reasons are why I would give the nod to Kaluuya over Stanfield for the Oscar. As much as I would be elated if either of them won the award, it could be argued that Stanfield’s success in the film was a product of piggybacking the brilliance of Kaluuya – which is not at all a bad thing. Actors often say how they feed off each other, and I think this is a perfect example of that.
As far as the movie goes – wow. What a story. Judas and the Black Messiah is such a powerful, complete, Shakespearean-esque tale that you forget it’s actually a true story. I couldn’t help but feel anger at certain parts dealing with the police brutality and demeaning language police used when talking to or about Black Americans. Although the time of this film took place several decades ago, we still find ourselves dealing with the same issues today. For example, the scene where police come to arrest Hampton is eerily similar to what happened when Breonna Taylor’s apartment was raided by police just last year. Without getting political, and whether you agree with the ideology of the Black Panthers or not, it is clear that their mindsets and actions reflect a prime instance of what happens when a group of people feel oppressed by their own country and backed against the wall. When reaction is no longer enough, pro-active steps take the forefront by any means necessary.
In the midst of linking the 1970s America to present-day America, I found myself also identifying the story’s similarities to the Bible. Of course, how could you not with a movie entitled Judas and the Black Messiah? After finishing the movie, the first thought I had was that this may be the most creative, most perfect title for a film I have seen in a long time. The correlations between Bill O’Neal and Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ most notorious Apostle, made the hairs on my arm shoot straight up. Obviously, the writers of the film felt the same way, which is why they chose the title.
In a lot of ways, Fred Hampton was the “Black Messiah” to his followers. He came along at a time when his people needed leadership in the worst way. They needed someone different. They needed someone charismatic, but firm. They wanted the oppressors to be fearful of the backlash they would cause. He gave them what they were looking for at the perfect time, so his following grew quickly and exponentially.
As I mentioned already, Judas and the Black Messiah brought out a career-defining performance from Daniel Kaluuya. It is fitting that he and LaKeith Stanfield are each nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor together because they each truly breathed an abundance of life into this film. It’s hard to tell the story of Jesus without including the actions of Judas, much like it is impossible to tell the story of Fred Hampton without also telling the story of Bill O’Neal. Shaka King directed a suburb film and has consequently propelled himself into being one of the best young, Black storytellers in the business.
Judas and the Black Messiah is a heavy, emotional, and commanding film that comes along at the perfect time in our history as we further attempt to educate ourselves on the mistakes made in our country’s past. Much like Fred Hampton did in the 70s, this movie also demands your attention. I’d be absolutely shocked if Daniel Kaluuya doesn’t take home the Oscar for his revolutionary performance in this film. Don’t be surprised if this movie takes a strong, sharp turn around the final corner in the Best Picture race and upsets heavy favorites like Nomadland or Trial of the Chicago 7. If it does, it will be well-deserved.
MATTER RATING: 9/10
OSCAR SCALE: 10/10 (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor – Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song)
BY: CHRIS GUEST