Judas and the Black Messiah: why it took so long for Hollywood to investigate the FBI

Judas and the Black Messiah: why it took so long for Hollywood to investigate the FBI

The Guardian

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For decades, cinema has presented the bureau as the best of America. Now a new drama starring Daniel Kaluuya finally dispels that myth

New drama Judas and the Black Messiah harkens back to the late 60s, when the FBI labelled the Black Panthers as “the greatest threat to internal security of the country”. It sought to neutralise them by any means available: infiltration, surveillance and, ultimately, the assassination of Fred Hampton, the “black messiah” of the title, forcefully played by Daniel Kaluuya. In J Edgar Hoover’s mind, the FBI was protecting “our way of life”; to many in the African-American community and beyond, the FBI was the threat.

For decades, Hollywood has presented the FBI as the best of American policing, upholder – as per its motto – of “fidelity, bravery and integrity”, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Hoover was the master of controlling the message. There was James Cagney’s 1935 hit G-Men, for example, a pro-government riposte to those dangerous gangster movies. Or 1959’s The FBI Story, a “greatest hits” of the bureau’s achievements. Hoover, who was friends with the director Mervyn LeRoy, personally ordered reshoots of scenes he didn’t like, and pushed to cast James Stewart as the archetypal G-Man: athletic, straight, white, male.

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