Film Review: Judas and the Black Messiah

Learning about attacks is as important as understanding liberation.

While many people have already given this film multiple reviews, one thing missing through many of these reviews is how much detail is involved in activist infiltration. I have met an activist infiltrator who was a young woman looking to seduce a young man, and no one had any idea who she was. The organization I was working with was looking for warm bodies to spread the message, a clear advantage of the dominant narrative, and if people had not been prepared for such behavior, the young man might have lost his job. In that case both the infiltrator and the target were White, but this film demonstrates how much more dangerous the reality is for Black and Brown organizations that manage to pierce a tangible hole in the lies of the dominant narrative.

One issue that is becoming more relevant is how much violence is enacted when tokenism is used. Within Black activism, public figures are much more vulnerable because people know with whom to be intimate. Black people who are selected by the dominant narrative are deemed “safe” to perpetuate and sustain the dominant narrative, not seen as defiant. The issue with activism is that if it makes someone wealthy or grants someone power, such behavior is not against the dominant narrative. Fred Hampton not only believed in providing for people using meager resources, but he was more interested in expanding the process of liberation than protecting his own life. When Fred Hampton demonstrated that he was too independent to be negotiated within the dominant narrative, he was murdered.

Because leaders are deemed as vulnerable, there is no rest for anyone within any activist organization. Bill O’Neal was more than simply a purported member of the Black Panther Party; he was a security officer that was granted extensive access and privilege within the organization. People were looking sideways at each other all the time because Fred Hampton was going to jail and violence was constantly being enacted against the Black community. When Fred Hampton survived the fire against the Party, people looked at Bill O’Neal, but then doubted themselves because of all the gaslighting and paranoia that activism has to endure. For this reason, most activism involves such hypervigilance that many Black people avoid it due to the strain of anti-Blackness they already suffer.

Counterattacks are accepted by the dominant narrative, which means that activists must brace themselves against the full violence of the state. Bill O’Neal was funded and handed a business after facilitating the murder of Fred Hampton. Even if leadership had survived, Black activist organizations cannot offer financial stability to people as well as the dominant narrative. Living costs money in the United States, which is why socialism and communalism without hierarchy were much more appealing to Black citizens who face relentless discrimination. To this day, there are no Black liberationists who are able to offer what the dominant narrative can, and material wealth is seen as “justice” in the minds of many.

Accountability is even less probable for violence against Black activist groups, so people can side with the dominant narrative against activists without true fear. Bill O’Neal was able to raise a family and retire before the guilt caught up with him, and after his sole interview, he was never the same again and died running into traffic–ironic for the owner of a gas station. Lakeith Stanfield needed therapy after playing Bill O’Neal because of the abhorrent concept of enabling the murder of an icon. Black activists know that they could all be murdered, and people would get off scott-free, which is why there are very real fears when deciding to go against the dominant narrative.

Finally, any violence against Black liberation movements has the capacity to set the struggle back for decades. While I knew about Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, I knew nothing about Black liberation until attending college in 1999. I had actually met a former member of the Black Panther Party in high school, but failed to recognize the significance of the moment. Shutting down Black liberation movements is essential to the dominant narrative because without validation, there is no point to racism, paying for commodities needed to survive, and constant competition. Under liberation, everyone gets to rest and a problem for anyone is a problem for everyone, as was evident when the fire happened in the film. Liberation is the ultimate threat to the dominant narrative, and it is more important to understand how attacks are made and who is making them to learn how to effectively counter such violence.

*Image of Black Panther Party member holding a banner in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1970.


    1. As someone who followed all the rules and chased the dominant narrative for years, I already know that whatever it offers is too little to sacrifice myself. I have discovered more peace than I’ve known for decades, and the one good thing about the past 15 months is the revelation that people have no choice as long as we keep engaging.

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