(I’m about to finish this film for the second time as I type this, so I think I can say a few intelligent words.)
This masterpiece is fascinating because of the tension within the film itself. If expanded to the six hours it should have been, what could have been an amazing Season 3 of the Black Panther Party HBO series of my dreams is instead a compressed, truncated story that pushes against the false-equivalencies the format has set up. How can you do a Black Panther film and not talk in-depth about the Ten Point Platform and Program? Or show the naked brutality that led to the naked brutality on all three sides? (The third side is the violence within the Party.) The Judas and the Black Messiah cast is Oscar-bound: LaKeith Stanfield does not miss one Shakespearian note, complexity showing in every brow and movement. Dominique Fishback steals every scene from Daniel Kaluuya, top to bottom, beginning to end, her poetry and prose indistinguishable. The writers and the director are happily trapped in the web of intrigue and anguish caused by Panther informant William O’Neal, but that emphasis comes at the expense of knowing him–and the quasi-sympathetic white FBI agent!–better than Hampton because the filmgoers enter in the middle of the latter’s movie. Having the Panther leader recite his greatest speech-hits does not compensate for this in the way the filmmakers think, but it’s all they decide to do. What do the Panthers believe in again? How’d they come about? What’s their goal? Sad that the political-personal merging, the key to so many American film classics of almost a century, was not good enough here for some (commercial) reason. This spectacular has made this writer want to burn Mario Van Peebles Panther and toss Spike Lee’s almost-30-years-old Malcolm X into the closet of film history, but The Spook Who’s Sat By The Door’s and Reds‘ clearly-explained political analysis, the focal point of its dramatic core, continues to beckon in the Panther’s afterglow while this reviewer is left wondering what might have been and what still could be.