Judas and the Black Messiah is quite a good film. It’s brutal at times, especially given that it’s a true story, but I thought it was well-made, gripping, directly smartly, and had excellent acting. I knew some of what happened, but I feel fortunate that I avoided some of the facts of the story, because it made the movie better. As such, I want to pass that on to you by not saying too much about the plot. I recommend watching Judas and the Black Messiah. It also got me thinking of another element of filmmaking that ties into the films vying for Oscars in 2021, specifically this one and Mank.
Fred Hampton accomplished a lot in his short life. He was only 21 when he was murdered by the FBI. This may be a huge spoiler, but his death is maybe the only thing a lot of people know about him, especially if you say The Trial of the Chicago 7. I did not know he was so young at the end of his life, which then got me thinking about the fact Daniel Kaluuya played him in the movie. Kaluuya is 31, and he definitely doesn’t look a decade younger than he is. This reminded me of a complaint I’ve heard about Mank. Well, mostly from TV writer Elliott Kalan, who seems particularly aggrieved by it. Gary Oldman is 62, and Herman Mankiewicz, died at 55. When the movie is primarily happening he’s in his forties. Some say Oldman was, well, too old to play Mank. I wonder if anybody will say the same thing about Kaluuya and Hampton. Should we care so much about the age of actors relative to the people they are playing?
Well, on the Oldman/Mank front, I will say that maybe it isn’t so crazy to have a man who drank himself to death by the age of 55 at a time when people tended to look older is being played by a modern 62-year-old man. Especially in a movie shot in black and white. I think it’s less egregious than the Kaluuya Hampton thing, because to me the difference between 31 and 21 is greater, looks wise, than 62 and 45 honestly. Having said that, it also didn’t really bother me.
I was fine with Kaluuya playing Hampton. He’s a really good actor and embodied the character. I’d rather be asked to believe a man who looks 30 is actually 20 when he’s right for the role in every other way than having some 20-year-old who maybe doesn’t have the acting chops get hired. Especially, perhaps counterintuitively, when it’s a real person. If it looks completely implausible, that’s one thing. Dick Van Dyke shouldn’t be playing a 30-year-old, you know? Also, when teenagers are being played by people who are definitively adults that can be a little silly. Then again, Alison Brie played a college freshman the first season of Community and it wasn’t a distraction. So, personally, I’m cutting Mank and Judas and the Black Messiah some slack. No matter what people like Elliott Kalan say.