For my Black History month event I choose to watch Judas and The Black Messiah directed and produced by Shaka King. The movie is a biographical drama about the betrayal of Chicago’s Panther Party leader in the late 1960’s, Fred Hampton, by William O’neil a FBI informant. The film begins with William O’Neil being arrested for the stealing of a car while impersonating a FBI agent. After O’Neil is arrested, FBI Agent Roy Mitchell offers to have O’Neal’s charges dropped if he works undercover for the bureau where he is instructed to infiltrate the Black Panther chapter in Illinois.
The key takeaways from the film were how oppressed the African Americans were in Chicago that they needed to form an organization with the main focus of combating systematic oppression. The Black Panther organization imposed their own values and ideals in an effort to liberate black communities. They were fighting to be seen as equals from their white peers. Their demands included full employment, adequate housing and more opportunities for work. While protesting, they carried weapons during the time in which the state was trying to outlaw the right to carry. By opposing and not following the state’s wishes, it highlights the message they were trying to send to the state. They wanted to show that the state doesn’t have full control over them and they can not stop people from carrying weapons. This is important because it emphasizes how African Americans were resisting oppressive behaviors to initiate a change within society. This idea of revolting and resisting inequality is a common theme in many of the black movements including the Black Panther Party. The first organized revolt from Black Americans in the United States was in “Gloucester, Virginia, in 1663, an event involving white indentured servants as well as black slaves”(History Channel).
The comparison between the KKK and the Black panthers is very important because the Black Panthers use the KKKs’ lynchings and killings as a way to justify their own actions. In a scene in the beginning of the movie Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panthers, uses this comparison to explain to the other Panthers why their drastic actions are required. The cops use the Black Panthers killings as a way to justify their own illegal actions such as the killing of the Black Panther in the hospital and the burning down of Black Panther headquarters. It’s very disheartening to witness so much pain and death over hatred due to the systemic racism embedded within normal society.
A prevalent theme in Judas and the Black Messiah is the fight for equality. At the beginning of the film there is a lecture from the Black Messiah discussing the difference between politics and war and draws the conclusion that politics is battle without blood and war is a battle with blood. This is an important distinction because sometimes the Black Panthers would use blood and not politics to achieve their goals. These acts of violence show the desperate state in which the black Americans in Chicago were facing due to being dehumanized because of the color of their skin. They felt the need to use violence in order to achieve their goal of equality while the police believed that they had to use violence to keep the Black Americans at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
Even though a lot of the actions that the Black Panthers commit aren’t morally righteous because of their use of violence, the police aren’t playing by the rules either and are killing members of the Black Panthers which is against the laws in which they are supposed to be upholding. As a result, the Black Panthers then used the police breaking the law as a way to justify their retaliation resulting in many instances of violence and death. It’s sad to see the division between the whites and other races just because of an old belief that blacks aren’t as intelligent as whites. The lengths that certain leaders and politicians will go to keep Black Americans at a lower status than Whites is disturbing. For example, in a later scene in the move, the FBI leader compared the war on the black panthers to the Korean war. The FBI leader continues by saying that he thinks that black Americans integrating into American society will ruin everything that was built in the past. The FBI director even goes to the extent of breaking the law in order to stop the Black Panthers from reaching their goal of equality. This emphasizes how people in a position of authority could easily abuse their power to satisfy their own personal ideologies due to the status they uphold in society.
Another theme I noticed while viewing the film was how fighting violence with violence is never the answer. In the beginning of the film I remember one of the Black Panthers using the lynchings from the KKK as a justification for the use of violence against racist whites. On the other side of things the police used the killings of their fellow officers as a way to justify their killings of helpless Black Panthers. A couple examples from the film would be when the police officers burn down the Black Panthers headquarters after they all surrendered and also when one of the Black Panthers was killed by two police officers while being in the hospital from a gunfight with two police officers. This is why the Black Panthers movement did not gain widespread support from the Black Community. Their use of violence turned away supporters because many believed violence wouldn’t help solve the problem. On the other hand a peaceful spokesperson like Dr. King can influence the masses because his message was one of love and peace.
Although slavery is long gone in the late 1960s the lasting effects are shown through the systematic oppression that Black Americans are facing. Even though the Emancipation of Proclamation was passed Black Americans were not seen as equal because of their past de-humaization that resulted from slavery. Although they are seen as equals from the law’s perspective many individuals including police officers looked down upon Black Americans because of racist ideology. This ultimately resulted in the organizations such as the Black Panthers coming to be as a way of fighting for equality when no one else will.
History.com Editors. “Slave Rebellions.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 12 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery-iv-slave-rebellions#:~:text=The%20first%20recorded%20slave%20revolt%20in%20the%20United,all-black%20slave%20revolt%20occurred%20in%20Virginia%20in%201687.