Shaka King, who directed Judas And The Black Messiah, has described the plot pitched to him by the Lucas Brothers, who co-wrote the screenplay, as “The Departed set inside the world of COINTELPRO.”
COINTELPRO was of course the FBI’s program to infiltrate and discredit anti-war and civil rights organizations (including the stated goal of preventing a “Black Messiah” from uniting them all, as referenced in the title). In this case, it led to the execution-style killing of Fred Hampton during a police raid. Daniel Kaluuya plays Hampton in the film.
The Leonardo DiCaprio of this operation (a slightly imprecise metaphor in this case since the informant wasn’t a cop) was Bill O’Neil, a car thief who agreed to become an FBI informant in return for a suspended sentence. Lakeith Stanfield plays O’Neil in the film, with Jesse Plemons as his FBI handler Roy Mitchell.
The performances in the film are fantastic, with Kaluuya looking like an early lock for best actor as Hampton. But it is, of course, a movie, and one that seems to trade spectacle for a coherent account of the events depicted at certain points (which we’ll get to in a separate piece). The story is framed around Bill O’Neil’s last and only known interview, for a 1990 PBS docuseries, Eyes On The Prize 2, directed by Louis J. Massiah and Thomas Ott. The whole thing is currently available online (for now). Watch it below.
It’s an interesting watch and offers a good background on the events, which probably could form the basis of a few different movies. In addition to Hampton, it also touches on Bobby Seale getting gagged during the trial of the Chicago 7, which was depicted in last year’s The Trial of The Chicago 7.