The Complexity of Black Agency in Judas and the Black Messiah

Before film director Ryan Coogler brought audiences the Black Panther film franchise, there was another Black Panther that loomed large in American culture. Director Shaka King’s new film Judas and the Black Messiah depicts the rise and fall of Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and the role of Black FBI informant William O’Neal in those events. The film’s title is a reference to the biblical story in which the apostle Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus, leading to his execution. In addition to providing a primer on a rich chapter in American history, the film raises a number of questions for the viewer surrounding the richness and limits of Black political agency in the United States.

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