JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH | FILM REVIEW | BY JUDE YAWSON

I have been unsure whether I wanted to review this film or not, as I felt the concepts that came into play are somewhat an injustice to the intentions and space the Black Panther Party attempted to create. However, after a few weeks of research, I came around to a satisfied state to speak on it. A strong disposition I have carried throughout my reviews so far is the importance of Black work in a multitude of mediums. Whether it is a film about a Black family unit and the lifelong affirmations so relatable, or the wonder of fantasy in a marvellous setting, a short film shedding an understanding of an unstudied space, or a historical show built to recognise a dramatic yet realistic state. In each of the Black works I review, there is a strong disposition of alleviating our struggles. I want to articulate and honour our community, as such ideas and realities became the making of me. Nevertheless, Judas & The Black Messiah is a film that unsettled that disposition of necessity by creation within me. It hurt my heart to watch, dampening my hope and soaked my misery in doubt, that by the end of it, left me morally debunked and slumped in depressive thought.

The first thing brought to my attention was questioning whether the film should exist or not. Although the enticing cast paused any form of protest that rocked within me. I thought, with the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, the film being produced by Ryan Coogler, directed and written by a highly respected Shaka King, this is something I should see. I will never miss something Daniel Kaluuya is in, right now he is my favourite actor. Plus, I jump at any chance to learn more about the Black Panther Party. This was my enticement to the film. Judas & The Black Messiah is about the immoral endeavours of William O’Neal, an FBI informant, played by a dismayed Lakeith Stanfield, positioned in a Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party led by a young and aspiring Chairman Fred Hampton, played by the illustrious Daniel Kaluuya, who won a Golden Globe for the best supporting actor in a film with this performance. Daniel’s invested performance shines bright. He visited Hampton’s early homes, schools, speaking venues, and even discussed with students and former Panthers about the man’s life and legacy. Meeting Fred Hampton Jr and his mother Akua Njeri (Deborah Johnson) who is played by Dominique Fishback, added to his conception of Fred Hampton as a being. Jesse Plemons plays Roy Mitchell, the real FBI agent that facilitates the whole ordeal under the tutelage of J Edgar Hoover – the infamous FBI director that looms in that dark with sharp but lifechanging statements of action.

The film itself is a suspenseful and triggering piece, highlighting aspects of the great communal service and pride carried throughout the Black Panther Party. It shone a brief light on their political notions, the discipline carried out, the training and collective endeavours of people, as well as the networking Fred Hampton orchestrated between other disillusioned political groups that existed at the time. The score of the film is dark, looming, adding to the unease and enthusing aspect of the reality of the situation. Composed by Mark Isham and Craig Harris, the Jazz influence captures the sound of the times while adding to the entire aura of the films concept. It was such musical strings being pulled that lulled me into a rage at the situations at hand. It is mechanical, calculative, imposing, and exposing of a concerned heart. This was masterfully done. Although, alongside my building bitterness, it was in these moments of the films dialogue, intentions, situations and score blending together that prompted me to question its existence. Despite the tremendous job in summoning the emotions, inspiring a range of thoughts, its being unsettles me knowing there’s no happy ending in this story. The immorality of the situation bellows as if jabbing at history itself, that won’t change but can produce such historical thrillers such as these.

William O’Neal story as the Judas evokes no empathy within my heart despite the humanisation of the character. He is the centrepiece of the film, that studies his controlled relationship with the FBI and the tactics they utilised to undermine the party. It could be argued that due to the insidious nature of the FBI’s COINTELPRO, its Counterintelligence Programme that carried out covert and majorly illegal operations of surveillance, infiltration, discrediting, and generally destroying domestic American political organisations, that it was not entirely to the fault of the manipulated informants. Nevertheless, empathy can only go so far. Regardless of the realities Black people faced, William O’Neal allowed himself to be a pawn for the downfall of a Black community. The Civil Rights Movement, as well as Black Power Movements, were prime targets during the 60s and 70s of these endeavours. William O’Neal was, one of countless people who were subjects utilised in these tactics. Though that doesn’t erase the fact he was a snitch looking out for his own self. Speaking to film reviewers at the African American Film Critics Association, Lakeith Stanfield voice cracks a bit as he thanked a critic for asking him about how he felt during this whole film process – something almost totally ignored throughout the whole ordeal.

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Lakeith Stanfield, left, and Jesse Plemons in a scene from “Judas and the Black Messiah.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Lakeith highlighted the role ignited a depression within him, he suffered from panic attacks on set, sleepless nights, sheer confusion at becoming this character and questioned whether it was the right decision at all. He had to go to therapy in order to alleviate the stress accumulated in playing William O’Neal. When he first received the script, he was enthused at the idea of playing Fred Hampton – only to be informed it was William O’Neal he would perform. This was going to be a challenge, but as an actor it wasn’t an opportunity to shy way from. Joining him in this interview, Fred Hampton Jr and Daniel Kaluuya offered their insights to the reality behind the film – making a fantastic roundtable discussion of it. Jr went on to highlight, it was important such a film was created in order to show the reality behind FBI & Governance involvement in subjugating their efforts. People needed to heed the inhumane tactics of psychological warfare, manipulation and general undoing of them. Jr also added that these modern-day tactics and technologies have existed for so long, such as wiretapping, listening to conversations via phone, speakers that can allow you to hear conversations from within a building if just pointed at it, facial manipulation to change identities among other practices to ensure the destruction of such movements. He even noted the fact that when William O’Neal passed, he and his Mother, Deborah Johnson, renamed Akua Njeri, attended his funeral to pay their disrespects and ensure he was dead and buried. However, at the open casket – they came to realise that the body and face was not of the William O’Neal they remembered – adding to the mystery of the FBI and their practices.

I felt comforted at the idea that Fred Hampton Jr and his mother essentially gave their blessings to the creation of this film, and less fiery at its existence. However, another glaring issue I recognised was raised by Noname, a Chicago native rapper that has a passion for hands on community work. She is not merely an activist, but someone who is vocal in teaching and helping others learn a discourse to understanding politics and community. She denied the opportunity in being a part of a soundtrack, stating after she witnessed the film she decided to pull out of it. Which for many implied her politics doesn’t align with the creation or content of the film itself. Like with the fantastic film score, the film itself, the soundtrack also alienated me by being a product of the same system the Panthers fought against. The film and its ideas became a culture product to produce worth over political action. Recently, Noname raised a headquarters for her reading club that intends to provide political education classes, book & food drives, host a radically filled library, provide free art shows and film screenings. A wholesome and free space that doesn’t intend to wait for the same Government that orchestrated the downfall of such in the 60s and 70s to act. It is such political inclinations that the film lacked. Although some intentions were pointed toward, such as the equality of opportunity and respect by gender, the community watch and monitoring of policing, the cooperation between the Panthers and other political movements. Despite such, as a film – the political incantations can only be injected so far. If there was a film intending to flesh out the philosophy and political endeavours of the Black Panther Party, a film focused on the snitch wouldn’t be it. I do hold hope that, likewise with myself, such communal interests no matter how little detailed can inspire people to act within their own. We can share, educate, and work to each other’s benefit without needing a Government known for disenfranchising life itself.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH DANIEL KALUUYA (right) as Chairman Fred Hampton

To conclude, I would say Judas & The Black Messiah is a must-see film if you adore passionate performances of brightening dark moments within history. Although the reality behind its existence offers a shallow feeling. Hence, I’d also say, if you are not a fan of trauma and carry a heavy heart you do not need to rush to see it. The spectacle has seemingly been enlightening for the cast, studying crew, and filmmakers themselves. I hope such can shed onto others, like it has with myself, and the endeavours of the Black Panthers strike a chord within them to embark on something similar. It is a shame that Blackness embodies politics in most cultural products and serves as something we can utilise in a learning space. But I guess, this has become a tragic reality of Blackness in white societies.

OWN IT! Interviews: Courttia Newland speaks about his new Novel ‘A RIVER CALLED TIME’, with Jude Yawson.

OWN IT! Interviews: Join Jude Yawson – Author of Stomzy’s Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far – for this absorbing and fascinating interview with the talented Courttia Newland, author of 7 books including his much-lauded debut THE SCHOLAR, to discuss his upcoming Sci-Fi Novel A RIVER CALLED TIME.

An inspirational and empowering conversation any writer should listen to.

. —————— A RIVER CALLED TIME – OUT 7 JANUARY 2021 ——————

Set in an alternate world where slavery and colonialism never happened, Newland’s staggering novel is both a timely exploration of social inequality and a story about love, loyalty and the search for the truth.

The Ark was built to save the lives of the many, but rapidly became a refuge for the elite, the entrance closed without warning. Years after the Ark was cut off from the world, a chance of survival within its confines is granted to a select few who can prove their worth.

Among their number is Markriss Denny, whose path to future excellence is marred only by a closely guarded secret: without warning, his spirit leaves his body, allowing him to see and experience a world far beyond his physical limitations.

Once inside the Ark, Denny learns of another with the same power, whose existence could spell catastrophe for humanity. He is forced into a desperate race to understand his abilities, and in doing so uncovers the truth about the Ark, himself and the people he thought he once knew.

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY NOW HERE

Courttia Newland is the author of seven books including his debut, The Scholar. His latest novel, The Gospel According to Cane, was published in 2013. He co-edited The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain, and his short stories have featured in various anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He was shortlisted for the 2007 CWA Dagger in the Library Award and the 2010 Alfred Fagon Award. In 2016 he was also awarded the Tayner Barbers Award for science fiction writing and the Roland Rees Busary for playwriting. As a screenwriter, he has co-written episodes of Steve McQueen’s 2020 BBC series Small Axe (See more here).

Jude Yawson is a multifaceted writer of essays, articles, poetry and Film Reviews. In 2018 Jude became an author, co-writing and editing Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far with Stormzy and the Merky team. Jude curates his eclectic writing through his website turned Blog House Of Horous, where his entire personal writing journey is hosted.

He has also contributed an essay entitled “Existing as a Black person living in Britain” to SAFE : On Black British Men Reclaiming Space. An anthology edited by Derek Owusu.

Check out more on Jude here + his website here.

DECEMBER NEWSLETTER

Because Stories Are Life.

Keeping up to date with all things OWN IT!

PUBLISHING NEWS

#FIRST FRIDAYS – ONE SATURDAY IN 82 ON BROADWAY MARKET.

An OWN IT! curated playlist released on the first Friday of every month.

December’s Playlist is built around the late great Stuart Goodman’s photography book ONE SATURDAY IN 82 ON BROADWAY MARKET.⠀

The songs on this playlist were all released in the UK in 1982, and are reflective of the part of London the photographs were taken. From the burgeoning Dancehall of Jamaica, to New Wave, Pop, Hip Hop and Soul. These songs capture the spirit of the time and place


LOOKING BACK AT 2020

Here’s a look back at what we’ve published this year.

  • One Saturday in 82 on Broadway Market – by Stuart Goodman
  • HOW TO: Be More Pirate – by Sam Conniff + Alex Barker
  • Endless Fortune – by Ify Adenuga

Stuart Goodman’s One Saturday in 82 on Broadway Market preserves images of an East London landmark, featuring Stuart Goodman’s account of his and Stephen Selby’s role in setting up a community initiative to save Broadway Market from demolition.

Goodman speaks of the London that existed before gentrification. An East London native brought up on a Hackney council estate, Goodman had lived in the market and been a shop keeper there for 6 months before photographing it for the first time. ⠀

Get your copy here⠀

HOW TO: Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff + Alex Barker.

The follow-up book to Sam Conniff’s Be More Pirate. Whether you want to overcome personal limitations, upend the status quo in your line of work, or find some co-conspirators, this book will help you to be more radical, relentless, and ambitious in your life and work.

Available in paperback here
and now available as an audiobook from Audible here.

ENDLESS FORTUNE by Ify Adenuga

Ify’s powerful memoir is the first book of its kind from the mother of four highly successful British creatives (Skepta JME, Julie Adenuga and Jason Adenuga) to examine the experience of the African diaspora and the complications around immigration from a personal perspective.

Get your copy now from IFYADENUGA.COMWaterstonesAmazon + All good retailers.

If you missed out in June, you can still catch-up on all sessions via our Youtube channel.

OWN IT! Onlline Fest

A Virtual Festival by OWN IT!

In June of this year, we put on an Online Festival, featuring 20 OWN IT! authors and artists and consisting of workshops, Insta live talks, discussions and conversations, animation, comedy, poetry and live readings.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH NOW

OWN IT! AGENCY SPOTLIGHT

With 2021 round the corner, look out for these exciting reads to come.

A River Called Time by Courttia Newland. OUT 7 JANUARY 2021

Set in an alternate world where slavery and colonialism never happened, Courttia Newland’s staggering novel is both a timely exploration of social inequality and a story about love, loyalty and the search for the truth. For more information visit here

Courttia Newland’s alternative, decolonised vision of London is a staggering feat of imagination. There’s so much to love here: an everyman hero who discovers he has abilities that are anything but ordinary, parallel cities across a multiverse, African cosmology belief systems, a keep-them-guessing ending . . . An amazing achievement”

NOEL CLARKE

Available for pre-order here.


Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden. OUT 28 JANUARY 2021

Set in an alternate world where slavery and colonialism never happened, Courttia Newland’s staggering novel is both a timely exploration of social inequality and a story about love, loyalty and the search for the truth. For more information visit here

A fantastically imaginative story about life, death and everything in between – a potent reminder that life is short and every second should be cherished”

IDRIS ELBA

Check out the two editions available of Mrs Death Misses Death. Support local independent bookshops and shop with them to purchase the exclusive edition of Salena Godden’s book in white.

Available for pre-order here.

NATIONAL LITERACY TRUST: GAME CHANGERS – TRUE STORIES – Interviews with excluded role models.

Featuring OWN IT!’s Jude Yawson, Nile Ranger and MC Angel.

Watch all episodes on Youtube here

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, from OWN IT! x

This year…give the gift of a story…Because Stories Are Life.

It’s been a tough year for all of us, but here’s looking at a better year for everyone to come. Happy New Year from everyone at OWN IT! x

See you in 2021!

CANVAS | NETFLIX SHORT FILM REVIEW BY JUDE YAWSON

My eyes well, as if a cloud ready to tell the Earth to cleanse itself. My chest started to swell with a linger of heartfelt anxiety. I felt enamoured by emotion. Maybe because short animations with Black characters are so rare, or the implications that lay bare on the screen which motivated me to daydream about age, losing my loved ones, and the grace we live on with, in memory of them, stared at me in the face. Canvas is a short film that acts as an empty canvas. The dialogue was evident in the facial expressions that lead you along the way through a stream of emotions. This canvas like setting of the film lay empty to exact an idea of loss and rekindling what you have almost forgotten. For me, it is a timely and beautiful 9-minute short film that boasts a benevolence we can all relate to.

Immediately it steers you into a dreamspace, one which offers no date, but a scope of what the film is capturing. Latching onto the thoughts in my mind, of our limited time here, exemplified in the old worn out face of the main character – a visibly exhausted Grandpa, wheelchair striken, lonely and reserved. Having lost his wife, survived by memories of the small of her back in the vision of dreams, the Grandpa leans on the pact of the new. His Grandchild, a playful mischevious little girl visits him with an enthusiasm that could carry the world. She sheds a joy and innocence for life that immediately captivates him. She enjoys pens and paper, creating art to embark on some journey. It is through their respective canvas’ the short story unfolds.

Doing a little research, the animator Frank E Abney III details the film as a reflection, a personal portrait of loss, contemplation regarding creation, and the innocence of children and the carefree attitude that comes with that. The film was originally picked up, optioned, and somewhat left aside by a production company until Abney rekindled the project after claiming the rights back. Canvas was put together by a team who dedicated off work hours to piecing together the project over a span of 6 years. Abney also executive produced Matthew Curry’s Hair Love, an Oscar-winning and somewhat game-changing short, and like Canvas both projects utilised Kickstarter Campaigns to garner enough money to finish the project. Like Hair Love, Black features are important but not upheld as the main factor. We are finally reaching a point of such projects just existing without the stance of racism prompting it to be. Canvas encompasses the feeling of loss and projects it into your own mind forcing you to consider your own. The main character was based on Abney’s own Grandfather, who he referred to as being “stoic and quiet” in his own life and conception of him, it was this idea of him that he always knew. As for the Granddaughter, during Abney’s own creative loss or rather dulled passion, it was the carefree demeanour of his nieces and nephews that enticed him. He lost his Father at an early age and witnessed his single Mother work throughout life to fill the void and provide them with more. Considering this all, Canvas is a compilation of such personal ideas that really epitomises Abney’s personal insights to life and loss.

Keeping the investors from the Kickstarter campaign updated and such a widespread acknowledgement of the film put Canvas on Netflix’s radar. Today, I sit here at the edge of my bed watching this film acknowledging its necessity as a black person, but generally as a wonderful and empathy drawing short, boasting rich colours and a lovely story. The power of animation and a heart toying story, not much has to be said or done in terms of a narrative to make it such a solely Black experience, rather the characters just have to be brought into life. It is as simple as that. I felt a wave of emotions just by the scenes, the angles that imply in his interview with Variety, Abney also highlighted that there are some more things to come with working alongside Netflix. I for one am excited at the potentiality of Black animation, likewise, with Black anything, so many stories can thrive through such a medium. Having worked on animated greats like Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Kung Fu Panda, Abney’s wealth of experience with heartwarming and emphatic works is not so foreign. I can just wonder about the magic Abney intends to bring to the screen.

Jude Yawson

Jude is a multifaceted writer of essays, articles, poetry and Film Reviews. In 2018 Jude became an author, co-writing and editing Rise Up: The #Merky Story So Far with Stormzy and the Merky team. Jude curates his eclectic writing through his website turned Blog House Of Horous, where his entire personal writing journey is hosted.

He has also contributed an essay entitled “Existing as a Black person living in Britain” to SAFE : On Black British Men Reclaiming Space. An anthology edited by Derek Owusu.

Jude’s writing and work is born from a necessity to speak and reflect on life, culture and society and he is particularly passionate about projects which focus on identity, representation, and humanity. Jude graduated in Philosophy and studied an MA in Cultural Studies. He is currently working on his debut novel while freelance writing, working with school children, specifically those with troublesome relationships with education, contributing at panels, writing articles and film reviews in his spare time.

Jude’s recent projects including writing a poem for one of the Art Fund’s Museum Of The Year Winners the South London Gallery, and a short series of interviews with the National Literacy Trust. The poem was filmed and performed by friends of the gallery. The film featured on BBC One’s One Show as well as being shown to the Art Fund’s Council.

We represent Jude for Literary, Film and TV rights. To speak about any of these rights please email: Agency@OWNIT.London