Frotcast Extra: Historian Simon Balto On ‘Judas And The Black Messiah’

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Howdy, Frotcast. If you’re a FilmDrunk reader as well as a listener, you may have caught my article on Fact and Fiction in Judas In The Black Messiah. The film is beautiful and intriguing but also slightly disappointing, but mostly it made me want to delve into the history of the time and events it depicts — specifically the conflict between the Chicago Police and Black Chicago in the late 60s, as well as COINTELPRO and J. Edgar Hoover’s war against Civil Rights leaders in general and the Black Panthers in particular (did you know they tried to blackmail Martin Luther King into killing himself using evidence of his extramarital affairs? wild).

Much of this culminated in the raid on Chicago Panthers chair Fred Hampton, which was basically a coordinated assassination. It was found that Hampton had been drugged, and that the FBI had an informant close to Hampton, and on the night they shot up the Panthers house and executed Hampton in his bed. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya as Hampton (the “Black Messiah”) and Lakeith Stanfield as FBI informant Bill O’Neal (Judas). Other characters include Roy Mitchell, O’Neal’s FBI handler, played by Jesse Plemons, and J. Edgar Hoover, played by Martin Sheen.

I was curious about the general history and the way certain events were depicted in the film, so I sought out an expert — Simon Balto, assistant professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Iowa and the author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power. He’s also working on a biography of Fred Hampton. Obviously he had a lot more to say than I could fit into my article, so I thought I’d share the full conversation here. As always, we have lots more content available to our Patreon subscribers at Patreon.com/Frotcast, and on our totally free Sopranos podcast, Pod Yourself A Gun.

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