The stars of Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya, are older than their real-life counterparts, affecting the story of the film.
Judas and the Black Messiah‘s The main cast changes the story in a major way, as the two main actors are about a decade older than their real-life counterparts at the time. The film follows the story of Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) and Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). The former became an FBI informant tasked with infiltrating the Black Panther Party to get closer to Hampton, the enigmatic chairman of the party’s Illinois chapter. However, while Kaluuya and Stanfield’s performances are excellent, the fact that both actors are considerable than O’Neal and Hampton were during the events of the film downplays how vulnerable they were within an unjust system.
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Shaka King’s film begins in 1966 in Chicago. O’Neal, a petty thief, was just recruited by the FBI to be an informant after he was caught stealing a car. The deal was that his charges would be dropped entirely if he agreed to pose as a member of the Black Panther Party and convey pertinent information about Hampton’s plans and actions to the office. However, Stanfield and Kaluuya are 29 and 31, respectively. Sure, their ages are not actually a problem in the real world, but it is when history is taken into account. Judas and the Black Messiah is revealing.
At the time of his joining the FBI, O’Neal was only 17 years old. It can be argued that as a teenager, O’Neal is perhaps more naive and more ready to be taken advantage of by a system that sees him as disposable than a man in his twenties. At that time, real life O’Neal believed he was “doing something good“Working with the feds, perhaps without being fully aware of what they were capable of. Then there is Hampton, who was only 21 when he was killed by police during the raid in 1969.
Hampton’s death was already tragic and horrifying on its own, but the fact that he was still so young, despite feeling like he would die amid his radical activism, makes the situation even more dire. The actual ages of O’Neal and Hampton may surprise those not so familiar with their stories. The discovery certainly changes the way the events of the movie are viewed. Judas and the Black Messiah The decision to ignore their ages strips the film of its sense of youth, something that would have helped shape the timeline and circumstances of the events.
Regarding O’Neal, FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) would have been far more predatory if he had been talking to a 17-year-old than a 29-year-old man. The contrast is enormous. In the same way, if the film had shown that Hampton was a successful, determined and prolific actor at the young age of 21, it would have been much more effective in telling the story. After all, age really does matter. Ultimately, the fact that a concerted effort has been made to depict the events of the film accurately enough, only to give up the true ages of O’Neal and Hampton, hurts Judas and the Black Messiah.
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