“Revolution is the only solution”.
The sing-song chant that begins the movie introduces a montage of clips from the Black Panther Party from the 1960s. Just as the members of the party are explaining that while the Black Panthers are “armed because they must be armed” their main focus is really social programs, the camera zooms out and we find ourselves watching a slide show put on by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to an auditorium full of FBI agents.
“Free medical clinic, free breakfast for children program…free legal aid, education for the community” the man on the screen says. Hoover pauses the show and addresses his audience.
“The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. More than the Chinese. Even more than the Russians. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a Black Messiah from their midst.” Hoover pauses on the face of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), introducing him to the agents and the viewers, claiming that he has the potential to unite the oppressed and therefore he must be stopped.
The introductions continue as ominous music plays and we watch William O’Neil (Lakeith Stanfield) walk down the street in an artistic opening that has a slight whiff of Tarantino. O’Neil impersonates an FBI agent to steal a car and is quickly apprehended and offered a deal: he can go to prison or he can infiltrate the Black Panthers in order to collect intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton.
What unravels after that is masterful. Shaka King does an excellent job directing and pacing this historical drama. I have always loved historical dramas. I enjoy spending my days afterwards reading and researching, comparing real life to the fiction. That was initially my plan for this article, but I’ve watched Judas and The Black Messiah twice in the last 24 hours and I find myself stuck on that chant – “Revolution is the only solution”.
I truly believe that. I believe that if we do not adapt we will die, and I believe that humans as whole hate to adapt. I believe that we will never choose to change, and therefore it takes revolution in order to do so. I do not question the validity of that statement because I already hold it to be true. It’s Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback) reciting a poem in the middle of the movie that has locked my mind on the idea of revolution.
The poem was actually written by Dominique herself, she carried a notebook with her while she was working on this movie and she journaled as her character, Deborah. There are two sections of the poem that have rattled around in my mind for the last twenty four hours.
We educate, we nurture, we feed, and we lobby
Perhaps we’re here for more than just war with these bodies
We scream and we shout and we live by this anthem
But is power to the people really worth that randsome
Because that’s what a mother does
She gives the world the most precious thing that she loves
And I love you
And I love our baby too
And there’s nothing more radical than seeing that through
I believe in revolution and I believe in revolutionaries, but it is important to remember loss of life is not the only revolutionary act. When Deborah chooses to be happy and celebrate her family, that is revolutionary because the rest of society wants her to suffer for life, but she adamantly refuses. When Fred visits Jake Winter’s mother to offer condolences for Jake’s death, she wants to talk about Deborah and their baby instead of her loss because the world wants her to drown in grief and she chooses laughter as her revolutionary act.
In American society we are moved by martyrs, not heroes. We expect death from those that move us. Change never comes without cost, and we set the price at a revolutionary’s life. When death is the expectation, living your life is just as revolutionary as laying it down.