Humanity is broken. That we already know. But just how broken is it really? Simple answer: Enough to necessitate an organization about revolution. The intent of this party is not to spread hate, but to rise up against the oppressors. The words spoken by these real leaders of the Black Panther Party are meant to sound beautiful yet leave a dark mark on your soul, you are meant to feel disturbed enough to see reality for what it is. Then we can turn our gaze toward what is needed for a civilization where all people have their needs met by those who have the power to give them those very needs. But will you open up to hearing the sermon by Judas and the Black Messiah?
As this account is retold to you, each image sustains the proper area of focus, one even takes it to a powerful extent that makes one character’s death truly devastating, especially with the tearful eyes focused on in that shot to make you really feel the sting. Other shots like this are supported by photography tricks such as these mesmerizing backlights or a clear hot/cold color contrast within a single image. Even if the camera goes out of focus at times, the imagery for the most part is not easy to erase from your memory. These elements work together to terrifying extent when conveying the chaos of guys breaking into a stolen car like it’s a horror movie. But then once this scene of dark shadows ends, it immediately cuts into a scene where everything’s white and bright, which subtly frustrates you.
Director and co-writer Shaka King utilizes all these bold compositions to support the haunting poetic words spoken by Daniel Kaluuya in his energetic speeches; you see why the Oscar hype is there. He delivers so many sayings that make you think, such as the equation “Panthers+Patriots=Lords?” There is a strong understanding of how civilization works, as proven by the statements, “A badge is scarier than a gun. You got the whole damn army behind you,” and, “war is politics with bloodshed, and politics is war without bloodshed.” They’re the kind of messages you’d expect a documentary to teach you, but it’s instead being sent to you by a traditional narrative.
Though it’s not the words alone that sell it, but how these words are said, right from the film’s prologue that is made to imitate a real-life interview- the words match the power of the news footage shown, with this grainy opening that imitates that of a documentary while also setting fire to your eyes. It grabs your attention and keeps it throughout the first act, even if the events of the second act get slower, and ultimately may lose your attention altogether by the final act.
But that’s where the sound design works to the advantage of adding more variety to the experience, from these African drums used as a metronome to the pacing of one scene, to the jazz music that sounds more like a locomotive horn. This use of cultural Black music fits what most people at the time heard from their perspective, seeing how these historical events happened shortly after MLK’s assassination, spinning a whole new meaning to these cultural sounds than they did before. The sound of a bass is also used when one is trying to make a decision, and the costumes are designed so that you know what role every individual plays in the equation to revolution. So you may not know why exactly you feel a certain way about a certain character, but these quiet queues get that very job done.
In working through these quiet queues, it’s ultimately the tremendous effort by the actors who seal the deal. Every actor is phenomenal, but it’s Jesse Plemons who gives the best performance in the film, he seems to breathe with the energy of a true traitor, with the cunning gaze that suggests he thinks he, a White man, will be the savior of the Black community. Ultimately, Plemons represents the average White male voice in the 1960s and today. In that same way, the women are in the background but still give so much power in their performances. Even if Dominique Fishback’s character isn’t fleshed out well enough, she along with the others prove how you don’t have to be a man to fight for a revolution.
You may be like me and would quickly label something like the Black Panther Party as a hate group that only wants to promote violence, but this film is self-aware enough to not fall into the trap of labeling its members as evil. There’s a deep history of pain and confusion within this community who just want rights for their own kind, and they’ll do anything to make sure the system changes. Have we made the necessary progress over fifty years later? Sadly, from the look of things, no. Maybe it’s because we refuse to listen to those we just like to call traitors and assassins. Jesus was never like that, he loved everybody, even Judas Iscariot himself, taking his authority as Messiah to forgive the one who betrayed him. That is what will remedy humanity: forgiveness, and it takes the testimony of Judas and the Black Messiah to see what it’s like on the other side of our familiarity. There must be power to the people. The Black people, the White people, the Yellow people, the Brown people, the Red people, ALL people. (Lifts up fist in the air.)
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!