What to watch | Two excellent biopics

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Daniel Kaluuya won an Oscar for his portrayal of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Alamy)
Daniel Kaluuya won an Oscar for his portrayal of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Alamy)

Judas and the Black Messiah ****

True-life drama. With Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield and Jesse Plemons. Director: ­Shaka King. 16LPV.

In the ’60s, thief-turned-FBI informant William O’Neal (Stanfield) is tasked with infiltrating the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, an African-American revolutionary movement, and gaining the trust of their charismatic young leader, Fred Hampton (Get Out’s Kaluuya). 

O’Neal walks a precarious line, manipulating both his comrades and handler, FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Fargo’s Plemons). As Hampton’s political influence grows, he falls in love with fellow activist Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), while the political plans of FBI director J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to quash the Panthers’ operations intensify. 

O’Neal reaches an ethical juncture – align with the activists or subdue Hampton by any means necessary. 

Told from O’Neal’s perspective, this biographical drama was nominated for six Oscars and won two, including best supporting actor for Kaluuya. 

With excellent storytelling and outstanding performances, it highlights the sacrifices and compromises activists must make and pays tribute to the Panthers’ social justice work. The filmmakers skilfully navigate outdated misconceptions about the Panthers and demonstrate Hampton’s integral role and collaborative approach through his rainbow coalition in which he united civil rights movements across all racial lines. 

The acclaimed team behind the film – including producer Ryan Coogler, who directed Black Panther (2018), and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Widows) – add gravitas and depth.

The film’s contemporary relevance is inescapable as it expertly demonstrates how institutionalised racism enables the corruption of power, racial injustice, police brutality and prejudice towards the oppressed. – CAMILLA THOROGOOD


Come Sunday ****

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Come Sunday
Chiwetel Ejiofor in Come Sunday. (PHOTO: Netflix)

Biopic. This inspiring film is based on the life of Bishop Carlton Pearson (12 Years a Slave’s Chiwetel ­Ejiofor). In 1998 the charismatic preacher led a hugely successful Pentecostal megachurch in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when one sermon led to his downfall and being branded a heretic. 

“There is no hell,” he told a stunned congregation whose ­fervent amens and hallelujahs froze in the air with those four words. 

Ejiofor, a Brit, does an excellent job as the American pastor – from the intonation and cadence of his rousing Pentecostal preaching style to his surprisingly good singing voice. He’s mesmerising to watch. 

The real Pearson has praised the film for magnifying the message he thought the church was trying to mute. And it indeed does so, tugging tightly at your heartstrings as the star-studded cast (which includes Danny Glover, Martin Sheen, Jason Segel and LaKeith Stanfield) take us back to the ’90s, when famine, war and the Aids epidemic made many question the fundamental tenets of every belief that had shaped them. – THANDO NDABEZITHA

2018. 95 MIN. 10-12PG LV. 


A: All ages   D: Drugs   H: Horror   L: Language   N: Nudity   P: Prejudice   PG: Parental guidance   
S: Sex  V: Violence

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