By Luca Gross
The Africana Studies faculty showed “Judas and the Black Messiah,” followed by a discussion on Feb. 10. The goal of this discussion was to analyze the connections between the past and today, and how the film can give us a new perspective on history, specifically during Black History Month.
The film was based on true events and stars William O’Neal, played by LaKeith Stanfield who is blackmailed by the FBI to infiltrate the Black Panther party. He is tasked with obtaining information on the chairman Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya.
Dr. John McMahon, a member of the Africana Studies faculty, said, “film can display moments in history that are lesser-known or even actively covered up and buried from public memory.”
Superheroes or scary stories have their place, but film can provide a new outlet of information for a new audience. When the medium is utilized effectively, they can offer a unique perspective on historic events.
“[Movies] give a broader audience access to historical accounts. How else can you learn about history, you can read a book, you can take a class, or hear stories from other people,” Elizabeth Onasch, a member of the Africana Studies faculty said.
“Mainstream film may allow some to understand history better,” Dr. Tracie Guzzio, of the Africana Studies department, said, “this may be the first way to get people to question or think about the history they may not have learned in school.”
The discussion after the film, yielded a variety of opinions from students and faculty of diverse backgrounds.
The film surprised some of the audience. A member of the history department explained that despite growing up while the events transpired, she had little to no knowledge of it until later in life.
An exchange student from Africa was surprised to have learned about it at all. Their experiences growing up in another country and their knowledge of the events did not match what they saw in the film.
The discussion continued from the benefits of films like “Judas and the Black Messiah” into the history behind the film.
“I think it corrects a lot of the misperceptions of bad history that people implicitly receive about the Black Panther party,” McMahon said. “I think it shows the work they did on social programs, it shows the solidarity work they did with other organizations in Chicago in a really effective way that dramatizes and narrates in a way that makes it accessible for folks.”
Onasch mentioned the 1619 project from the New York Times, a reminder of the 400 years since slavery. Like the film, the project aims to refocus attention on the contributions of African Americans to the history of the United States. Specifically the contributions of the enslaved individuals in the United States.
“Black history is American history,” Guzzio said. “So much of who we are as a country is because of the contribution of African Americans. The Black Panthers breakfast programs later became the basis for the federal school lunch programs.”
There was a reflection on how Americans have a lot to think about in the way history is portrayed, and how stories like the one depicted in the film often become suppressed over time.
The Africana Studies faculty are hosting another movie night, followed by a discussion Feb. 22 with a screening of “Summer of Soul,” a documentary on the Harlem Cultural Festival during the summer of 1969.