starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen
screenplay by Will Berson & Shaka King
directed by Shaka King
by Walter Chaw Shaka King's Judas and the Black Messiah is a fantastic Vietnam War movie that is not simultaneously a fantastic biopic of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. It reminded me a lot, and directly, of Brian De Palma's moral opera Casualties of War, which first challenged me to reckon with the American military not as a source of global good but as the perpetrators of atrocity at the whim of an inexorable capitalist, expansionist empire hiding behind the cowl of religion and white supremacy. In that film, '80s emblem of white, "compassionate" conservatism Michael J. Fox plays a green soldier who turns whistleblower as the witness to the misdeeds of his rapacious, brutal company commander, (Sean Penn). Based, like Judas and the Black Messiah, on true events, Casualties of War, again like King's film, sees white America as engaged in war crimes against minority populations. Alas, like De Palma's indisputably powerful piece, King's film is a better cultural self-excoriation than it is an examination of whatever's embedded in the American character that sees the flaying of Black (and Asian) bodies as both inevitable and isolated throughout our short history. In each film, there is the implication that justice of a sort has been served: in the one with trial and imprisonment for the malefactors, in the other (Judas and the Black Messiah) with the reported real-life suicide of the rat in Fred Hampton's cupboard. Neither movie really reckons with the growing silence of minority voices in our discourse.