Perception is often more important than reality. I’ve said it many times, and this new release Judas and the Black Messiah proves it once again.
In 1969, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover described the Black Panther party as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
In 1969, guess how many members the entire Black Panther organization had? — 5,000. Do you remember The Hasselhoffs? I don’t, but even though it only lasted for two episodes — the first episode was seen by 718,000 fans.
In my opinion, J. Edgar made the Black Panthers what they became.
The group’s core practice was its open carry armed citizens' patrols (“copwatching”) to monitor the behavior of officers of the Oakland Police Department and challenge police brutality in the city. But they also instituted the Free Breakfast for Children Programs to address food injustice, and community health clinics for education and treatment of diseases including sickle cell anemia, tuberculosis, and later HIV/AIDS.
So always read and study, before you put your mouth in gear.
The film is about the betrayal of Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in late-1960s Chicago, at the hands of William O'Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield), an FBI informant. O’Neal was a reluctant informant.
He was never very political. He became more political after hanging around Hampton and seeing the gray areas, in the man the FBI just saw in black and white. O’Neal on the front end was a car thief who used a fake law enforcement badge to basically steal a bro’s car. He got caught and was facing 18 months for the theft and five years for impersonating an officer.
Or he could walk. FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) wanted this non-political brother to keep tabs on the Black Panther party. O’Neal enjoyed the rush at the beginning. He turned in a tip to Mitchell and got some under-the-table cash based on how good the tip was. Then he started hearing within the party what they do to informants - things like pouring gas on them, setting them on fire and then dumping their charred remains into the river.
O’Neal wants out.
Mitchell reminds him of the jail time and that he belongs to them (F.B.I.).
This is a cool story, and pretty-much historically accurate. It released on DVD and Blu Ray on Tuesday.