Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Is Judas and the Black Messiah historically accurate?

Written By Navoneel Sen (Grade 10)

Trailer to the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSjtGqRXQ9Y

History is ‘His Story’. Here, ‘His’ refers to the common man. Sometimes more than just a common man, we find it mainly tells us the story of famous men. This movie was released on March 5, 2021 by the great Shaka King. It has also been nominated for the Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and it is the first film to be nominated with black producers (Shaka King and Ryan Coogler), black director (Shaka King) and black actors (LaKeith Steinfield and Daniel Kaluuya). The film is based on the true story of the assassination of Fred Hampton (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya) by his trustworthy ‘Judas’ William O’Neal (portrayed by LaKeith Steinfield). But, despite all its positive acclaims, is the movie historically accurate? Let’s find out.

First of all, let me say that Judas And The Black Messiah is actually based on a true story and is not fictional. Here William O’Neal is actually an FBI informant who infiltrated a communist party named BPP (Black Panther Party), whose members are the nemesis of the FBI. O’Neal gradually befriends Hampton and forms a real friendship with him and reluctantly betrays him when he was left with a Hobson’s choice. This led to O’Neal’s gradual suicide while being a reluctant FBI agent. The film mainly focuses on O’Neal and not Hampton whereas history just marked the assassination of Hampton by O’Neal. In fact, O’Neal was totally forgotten before and after the assassination of Hampton. However, the movie totally deals with O’Neal’s life as he starts out as a petty thief impersonating a police officer to being an FBI informant who was forced to infiltrate and later betray his best friend Fred Hampton for 300$. O’Neal even tried to resign, but his officer said that he cannot resign until he finishes his job and gets $300. However, O’Neal never left his job, because it would have been useless. That is a different story altogether.

Secondly, Judy Harmon never existed. Judy Harmon was the security official of BPP. However, in real life, Judy never existed. The film used her in order to show how women are an integral part of communism. Thus we can conclude, that women were never that much an integral part of the real BPP, however, to show some respect, the movies did put some women in the BPP in important posts. This is something supportive of the film. What didn’t happen in real life was racial but the film even covered up for the racism? That is another story of how women just participated in the rallies in real life, but never actually got any position in the BPP.

Thirdly, William O’Neal was never the driver of Fred Hampton. A similar film was made in 2019 by the father of gangster movies Martin Scorsese named The Irishman. In that movie, famous labour leader Jimmy Hoffa (portrayed by Al Pacino) was assassinated by his loyal friend Frank Sheeran(portrayed by Robert De Niro) on the orders of Russell Buffalino(portrayed by Joe Pesci). Even that film was based on a historical inaccuracy-the missing case of Jimmy Hoffa. Frank Sheeran was believed to confess the murder but the actual incident remains undiscovered. That’s a different story, but the only thing confirmed there was that Frank Sheeran was the actual driver of Jimmy Hoffa. However, in the case of Judas And The Black Messiah, O’Neal never drove for Hampton, but however, served as a kind of bodyguard and head of the security council of BPP. 

Fourthly, we see Hampton being shot down by the FBI in his apartment, due to O’Neal’s betrayal and drugging him. That was completely wrong. The assassination was carried out by O’Neal directly. O’Neal slipped an overdose of secobarbital in Hampton’s drink, and moments later he passed out while talking to his mum and was reported dead, the next morning. However, the film had to make this error because O’Neal claimed that these were rumours and he did drug the drink but not with secobarbital. This made King change the whole script for the ending. However, it still counts as a historical error no matter what.

Thus, we can conclude that despite being a hit and also being nominated for the Best Picture Award, it also has some historical accuracies like any other movie. Hence, we can learn that not all historical movies are 100% accurate.

Featured Image Courtesy – Metacritic

Navoneel Sen
Navoneel Sen
Hi, this is Navoneel. I am an avid reader of novels and poetry, and I am also an amateur writer of short stories and poetry. My life is surrounded by books, and according to me, my books and my pens are my only friends and therefore I spent most of my time either reading books or writing poems and stories.


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