Review: ‘Nope,’ starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun

July 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Brandon Perea in “Nope” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Nope”

Directed by Jordan Peele 

Culture Representation: Taking place in Santa Clarita Valley, California, the sci-fi horror film “Nope” has a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Asian and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A brother and a sister, who work together on a horse ranch, join forces with a Fry’s Electronics salesman to visually document an unidentified flying object (UFO) in their area.

Culture Audience: “Nope” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Jordan Peele and stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, but this frequently monotonous and unimaginative movie is an unfortunate case of hype over substance.

Steven Yeun in “Nope” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Does the sci-fi horror flick “Nope” live up to the hype? The title of this disappointing bore says it all. It’s a rambling, disjointed, self-indulgent mess that does nothing innovative for movies about UFOs. It’s obvious that writer/director/producer Jordan Peele got this movie made without anyone stepping in to question the very weak and lazy plot of “Nope,” and to ask for a screenplay rewrite to make drastic improvements that were desperately needed.

After the memorable originality of the previous two movies that Peele wrote and directed (2017’s “Get Out” and 2019’s “Us”), “Nope” looks like a movie that was made from a half-baked, unfinished screenplay draft that got greenlighted simply because Peele had enormous commercial and critical success with “Get Out” (which won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and “Us.” “Nope” was filmed for IMAX screens, but having a bigger screen doesn’t always make a movie better. Considering all the outstanding and classic movies about UFOs, “Nope” has the substandard story quality of a UFO movie that was thrown together for a fourth-tier cable TV network or a direct-to-video release. Yes, “Nope” is that bad.

One of the reasons why “Nope” fails to live up to the hype is because before the movie’s release, the plot was shrouded in secrecy, as if “Nope” were some kind of masterpiece whose details dare not be leaked out, in order not to reveal a brilliant plot. There is no brilliant plot or even a clever plot twist in “Nope.” It’s just a tedious, badly structured movie about some people who see a UFO in the sky and decide to visually document it because they think it will make them rich and famous.

Too bad it takes so long (not until the last third of the movie) for any real action to take place in “Nope,” which should have been an exciting sci-fi horror film, but it just drags on and on with no real substance. Just because “Nope” has some Oscar winners and the big-budget backing of a major studio, that doesn’t automatically mean that the movie is going to be good. Peele is capable of doing much better movies (as evidenced by “Get Out” and “Us”), but “Nope” just looks like a cynical cash grab from filmmakers coasting on Peele’s previous successes.

Making matters worse, the talented cast members of “Nope” are stuck portraying hollow characters with vague backstories and a lot of cringeworthy or monotonous dialogue. Keke Palmer’s Emerald Haywood character is the only one in “Nope” who comes close to having a fully formed personality, but her character is quickly reduced to being a bunch of one-note soundbites and wisecracks. Everyone else in “Nope” is written as an incomplete sketch.

Characters in “Nope” end up working together in implausible ways. “Nope” also telegraphs way too early which character will have the big “heroic” scene during the inevitable showdown in the movie’s climax. The movie’s visual effects are adequate, but definitely not spectacular for a movie concept of this scope. Intriguing subplots are dangled in front of the audience, only to be left hanging. And many of the action scenes have some horrifically subpar editing.

And why is this movie called “Nope”? It’s because during certain scenes that are supposed to be scary, one of the characters says, “Nope,” as in, “No, I’m not having this right now.” It’s supposed to be an engaging catch phrase, but it’s really very tired and unoriginal. Most of the so-called “comedy” in “Nope” is fleeting and often falls flat.

An early scene in “Nope” (which takes place in California’s Santa Clarita Valley) shows Emerald Haywood and her older brother OJ Haywood (played by Daniel Kaluuya) on the set of a TV commercial, where they have been hired as animal wranglers. OJ and Emerald have inherited a horse ranch called Haywood Ranch (in the desert-like Agua Dulce, California) from their deceased father Otis Haywood Sr. (played by Keith David, who has a flashback cameo), a groundbreaking horse wrangler who worked on a lot of Hollywood productions. The Haywoods rent out their horses in a family business called Haywood Hollywood Horses.

The siblings’ mother is not mentioned. Don’t expect to find out how long Otis has been dead. Don’t expect to find out why OJ and Emerald have a ranch with about 10 horses, but they’re the only workers on the ranch. (It’s very unrealistic.) Don’t expect to find out if OJ and Emerald really love their ranch jobs or if they’re just doing it out of family obligation. These are some of the many reasons why “Nope” is so frustratingly shallow and poorly written.

On this particular TV commercial (what the commercial is for is never stated in “Nope”), OJ and Emerald have a black horse named Lucky that has been hired to be in the commercial. The horse is being filmed indoors, in front of a green screen. It’s OJ and Emerald’s job to handle the horse and tell people on the set how to interact with the horse.

OJ and Emerald have opposite personalities. OJ is quiet and introverted. Emerald is talkative and extroverted. Kaluuya, who gave a compelling Oscar-nominated performance in “Get Out,” plays a dreadfully dull character in “Nope.” It’s not Kaluuya’s fault. The character was written that way. And it’s a waste of Kaluuya’s talent.

Emerald is so talkative that she gives a mini-lecture to all the assembled cast and crew members about how the very earliest moving picture is considered to be Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 loop of cards titled “Animal Locomotion, Plate 626,” the very first scientific study to use photography. “Animal Locomotion,” an early example of chronophotography, featured an unidentified black man riding on a horse.

Emerald then asks the assembled group if they happen to know the name of the man who rode the horse. No one knows, of course. Emerald than proudly states that the man was actually an ancestor of Emerald and OJ, and his last name was also Haywood. There’s no way to verify if what Emerald is saying is true. And the people on this set don’t really seem to care. They just want to get the job done for this commercial.

There are some racial undertones to the cast and crew’s bored reaction to Emerald’s story, since OJ and Emerald are the only African American people on this set. It might be Peele’s way of showing that people who aren’t African American are less inclined to care about African American history. OJ seems slightly embarrassed and annoyed that Emerald is telling this story to people who obviously aren’t interested. Emerald also uses this moment to announce to everyone that she’s available for work as an actor, filmmaker, stunt person and singer.

The cinematographer for this commercial is a jaded elderly man named Antlers Horst (played by Michael Wincott), who will end up encountering OJ and Emerald again much later in the movie. Also on the set is actress Bonnie Clayton (played by Donna Mills), whose job is to interact with the horse. Although it’s nice that the “Nope” filmmakers hired former “Knot’s Landing” star Mills for this movie, because she doesn’t get enough work that she deserves, her role really is a cameo, with screen time of less than five minutes.

Emerald and OJ advise everyone on the set to remain calm around Lucky. And it’s at that moment you know things are going to go wrong. Lucky gets nervous about something and starts bucking and lunging in a way that’s dangerous. Because the horse is deemed unfit to be on this set, Emerald and OJ are fired. OJ says that they need this job, but the decision has been made to let them go.

OJ and Emerald then go to Jupiter’s Claim, a California Gold Rush theme park owned and operated by Ricky “Jupe” Park (played by Steven Yeun), a former child star who often acts as a show emcee at this theme park. Jupe is married and has three sons, ranging in ages from about 7 to 12 years old. Jupe’s wife Amber Park (played by Wrenn Schmidt) works with him at Jupiter’s Claim. Their sons Colton Park (played by Lincoln Lambert), Phoenix Park (played by Pierce Kang) and Max Park (played by Roman Gross) have brief appearances in the movie.

OJ decides that he’s going to sell Lucky to Jupe. Emerald is upset by this decision, but OJ reassures her that he plans to buy Lucky back when he has the money to do so. It’s a transaction that OJ and Jupe have done before, so Jupe is aware that his ownership of Lucky will probably be temporary.

Jupe knows about OJ’s financial problems and has been offering to buy OJ and Emerald’s ranch, but so far the offer has been declined. Later in the movie, OJ explains he’s not willing to give up Haywood Ranch because he wants to continue his father’s legacy: “He changed the industry. I can’t just let that go.”

It’s during this horse-selling transaction scene that viewers find out a little bit more about OJ and Emerald. OJ is the main caretaker and operator of the ranch. Emerald considers the ranch to be her “side job,” but she doesn’t really have a permanent career, because she jumps around from job to job as her main source of income. Emerald is also the “partier” of these two siblings: She likes to vape and is open about her fondness of smoking marijuana.

The siblings have some unspoken resentment about responsibilities for the ranch, as well as unresolved feelings about the death of their father. Later in the movie, Emerald confesses to OJ that when they were children, she was jealous when their father asked OJ to help train a Haywood family-owned horse named Jean Jacket, a horse that Emerald says she hoped would be the very first horse she would train and own. Get ready to roll your eyes: Later in the movie, the outer space entity in “Nope” is given the name Jean Jacket.

Emerald is openly queer or a lesbian, because she often dates women she works with or meets through her jobs. OJ mildly scolds Emerald about it because he thinks it’s unprofessional for her to mix her love life with her work life. Emerald brushes off his concerns. Meanwhile, as an example of how “Nope” doesn’t have a lot of character development, nothing is ever mentioned about OJ’s love life or anything about his life that isn’t about the ranch.

As for Jupe, he has an interesting background that is sloppily explored in “Nope.” Jupe’s main claim to fame as a child actor in the 1990s was playing a supporting character named Jupiter in a big hit movie called “Kid Sheriff” and then starring in a TV comedy series called “Gordy’s Home,” which was on the air from 1996 to 1998. In the meeting that Jupe has with OJ and Emerald, Jupe shows them a secret room where he keeps “Kid Sheriff” memorabilia. Jupe proudly mentions that a Dutch couple paid him $50,000 just so the couple could spend a night in this room.

Jupe’s experience with “Gordy’s Home” is what led him to quit being an actor. In “Gordy’s Home,” Jupe played an adopted child in a white family of two parents and an older sister. The family had a pet chimp named Gordy, and a lot of the show’s comedy revolved around this monkey’s antics.

Something shocking and traumatic happened one day while filming an episode of “Gordy’s Home.” And as an adult, Jupe still doesn’t want to talk about it, based on how he reacts when it’s quickly mentioned in a conversation between Jupe and OJ. What happened on that fateful day on the set of “Gordy’s Home” was big news. And this incident is shown as a flashback in “Nope.”

However, the way this flashback is dropped into “Nope” is so random and out-of-place, it’s very mishandled. This flashback is then never referred to or explained again in the movie. It’s a suspenseful scene, but it almost has no bearing on the overall story of “Nope” and seems to be in the movie only for some shock value.

It doesn’t take long for “Nope” to show the UFO (a generic-looking saucer-shaped object), which is first seen by OJ when he’s at the ranch. After he tells Emerald about it (his description is vague, because OJ is written as someone who’s barely articulate), Emerald immediately thinks they should try to film the UFO so they can get rich and famous from the footage.

And so, Emerald and OJ go to Fry’s Electronics to stock up on video surveillance equipment. Fry’s Electronics and the company logo get so much screen time in “Nope,” it’s brand placement overload. (All of this promotion of Fry’s Electronics in “Nope” is not going to do Fry’s Electronics much good anyway. In real life, Fry’s Electronics went out of business in 2021, the same year that “Nope” was filmed.)

At the store, OJ and Emerald meet sales clerk Angel Torres (played by Brandon Perea), who is overly talkative and curious about why OJ and Emerald are getting so much video surveillance equipment. Angel correctly guesses that it’s because OJ and Emerald want to film a UFO, but OJ and Emerald deny it. Angel also happens to be the Fry’s employee who delivers the equipment and helps install it. And you know what that means: Angel eventually finds out the truth, and he teams up with OJ and Emerald in their quest.

Angel is prominently featured in “Nope,” but he’s another example of an underwritten character in the movie. Viewers will learn nothing about Angel except that he was recently dumped by an actress ex-girlfriend named Rebecca Diaz, who was in a relationship with him for four years. Angel overshares this information the first time that he meets OJ and Emerald while lamenting that Rebecca broke up with him to star in a TV series on The CW network. OJ and Emerald don’t care, and neither will viewers of “Nope.”

Angel also goes on a mini-rant about how he doesn’t like how UFOs are now expected to be called UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), because he likes the term UFO more. And once again: OJ and Emerald don’t care, and neither will viewers of “Nope.” Angel isn’t too annoying, but he will get on some viewers’ nerves because of his condescending, know-it-all attitude.

Without going into too many details, “Nope” makes some weird decisions on what technology is used to visually document the UFO. Even with a lot of modern digital technology at their disposal, the people in this UFO-sighting group use some very outdated and clunky cameras that require film. The explanation provided is very phony and overly contrived.

Apparently, the “Nope” filmmakers thought it would like cool to have the characters using retro cameras that require film, even though film could be ruined a lot easier than digital footage. It makes no sense, except to add unnecessary hassles for the people trying to visually document this UFO. And yes, there’s a scene where a camera’s film needs to be inconveniently changed at a pivotal moment.

It should come as no surprise that the alien life form that’s hovering in the sky abducts living beings. The way this alien life form looks is not very original at all. However, even these abduction scenes are handled in an idiotic way in “Nope.” And none of it is truly terrifying.

There’s a scene where 40 people are abducted at the same time, but the abduction is mostly suggested and shown in brief flashes. This mass abduction makes the news. However, “Nope” has no realistic depictions of the huge investigations and military reactions that would ensue, or how much of a circus the abduction scene would be for the media and curiosity seekers.

When Emerald goes back to the abduction scene later in the movie, the place is deserted, and she has free access to the place, with no law enforcement, military, security personnel or media in sight of this notorious crime scene. It’s all just so stupid. And it’s very easy to predict which characters will survive during this mess, based on how often and how close the alien life form “chases” certain characters out in open fields (making them easy targets), but the alien life form never abducts them.

But the worst plot hole of all is that viewers are supposed to believe that for a certain period of time, only OJ and Emerald have witnessed this giant UFO that appears numerous times in the sky and would actually be seen for miles. It’s as if the “Nope” filmmakers want viewers to think that the only people who can see the UFO in the sky during these times are either at the ranch or looking at the ranch’s closed-circuit live surveillance footage, which Angel does because he’s nosy. It’s pathetic storytelling.

“Nope” also has pretentiously titled chapters, such as “Ghost” (named after the ranch’s white horse that doesn’t do anything but run away and come back a few times), “Clover,” “Gordy” and “Jean Jacket.” There’s not a consistent through line for these chapters, which are as haphazard as a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. The chapter titled “Gordy” is the one that shows the tragic incident that happened on the set of “Gordy’s Home.”

“Nope” has a few moments that effectively build tension for viewers to wonder what’s going to happen next. (There’s also a fake jump scare scene that would have been more interesting if it were real jump scare in the story.) But as a horror movie, “Nope” fails miserably to be frightening. There are parts of this movie that are so boring, some viewers will fall asleep. Don’t expect “Nope” to give a reason or a purpose for any life forms that come from outer space. In fact, don’t expect “Nope” to have a reason to exist other than to make blockbuster money and fool people into thinking that it’s a high-quality, entertaining movie.

Universal Pictures will release “Nope” in U.S. cinemas on July 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah,’ starring Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield

February 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

LaKeith Stanfield (in front) and Daniel Kaluuya (in back) in “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Photo by Glenn Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Judas and the Black Messiah”

Directed by Shaka King

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Chicago in 1968 and 1969, the drama “Judas and the Black Messiah” features a predominately African American cast (with some white people and Latinos) representing people involved in the civil rights movement and law enforcement.

Culture Clash: The Black Panther Party, including Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton, was the target of FBI investigations that included hiring an African American paid informant named Bill O’Neal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party to help the FBI bring down Hampton and his colleagues.

Culture Audience: “Judas and the Black Messiah” will appeal primarily to people interested in movies about the civil rights movement for African Americans.

LaKeith Stanfield and Jesse Plemons in “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Photo by Glenn Wilson/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” which is based on true events, mostly succeeds as presenting a rousing and riveting depiction of a troubling side of the U.S. civil rights movement that is rarely seen as the central plot of a movie: How African Americans were used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to betray African American civil rights leaders who were labeled as “troublemakers” by the FBI. It’s a necessary and sometimes uncomfortable examination of specific people in the late 1960s history of the civil rights movement, even though “Judas and the Black Messiah” has some awards-bait dramatics that were obviously manufactured for the movie.

Directed by Shaka King (who co-wrote the screenplay with Will Berson), “Judas and the Black Messiah” shows two very different sides of the African American experience with the civil rights movement. On the one side is the urgent activism embodied by Fred Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. On the other side, is the passive political apathy of William “Bill” O’Neal, a car thief who was lured into betraying the Black Panthers by being a paid confidential informant for the FBI, in exchange for the FBI keeping O’Neal out of prison for his past crimes, such as car theft and impersonating a FBI agent.

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” which takes place primarily in Chicago, is told from perspective of O’Neal (played by LaKeith Stanfield), but Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya) is most definitely portrayed as the heroic soul of the movie. In real life, Hampton and O’Neal were in their early 20s when this movie takes place from late 1968 to late 1969. Thankfully, the filmmakers chose “Judas and the Black Messiah” as the movie’s title, instead of the movie’s original and very misleading title “Jesus Was My Homeboy.” Jesus is not a major theme in this movie at all.

The term “black messiah” refers to then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s fear that the civil rights movement would gain momentum under a powerful and charismatic leader. For a while, that leader was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK), until he was brutally assassinated on April 4, 1968. “Judas and the Black Messiah” starts off in late 1968, when the civil rights movement became increasingly fractured by ideological divides between those who wanted to follow MLK’s non-violence philosophy and those such as the Black Panthers, who wanted to follow a more left-wing-leaning “any means necessary” philosophy, even if those means included violence.

Hoover has been depicted in various ways in movies and television, but in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” there’s no doubt that Hoover (played by Martin Sheen, in prosthetic makeup) is the movie’s chief villain. In an early scene in the movie, Hoover is presumably at FBI headquarters as he addresses an auditorium full of FBI agents (all white men, as Hoover reportedly preferred), with an oversized projection screen that looks a little too ahead of its time, as if he’s giving a TED Talk. This is supposed to be 1968, not 2018. It’s one of a few details that don’t ring true in the movie.

During this FBI assembly, Hoover sneers, “The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security. Our counterintelligence program must prevent the rise of a black messiah among their midst, one with the potential to unite Communists, the anti-war and the new left movements.” A photo of Hampton then appears on the giant projection screen, to make it clear that Hampton is now one of the FBI’s main targets.

Meanwhile, O’Neal is shown being a small-time car thief with an unusual method of operation: He impersonates a FBI agent (including having a fake badge) and pretends to arrest someone for having a stolen car. He looks for potential victims, by at least finding out their names and what kind of car they have, so the fake arrest can look real. And he chooses people who are probably into illegal activities and aren’t likely to go to the police when the theft victims find out they’ve been tricked. It’s implied that all of O’Neal’s theft victims are black, since he knows he’d have very little chance of getting away with this FBi impersonation stunt if he tried it on white people.

What usually happens during this fake FBI arrest is that O’Neal gets the handcuffed person’s car keys and steals that person’s car. Except when viewers first see O’Neal in this movie, that plan backfires in a bad way. O’Neal walks into a bar while some men are playing pool and tries to arrest one of them, but this stranger resists being handcuffed. The “arrestee” has a few friends who also try to stop the detainment. They’re all immediately suspicious of this “arrest” and chase after O’Neal in the car.

One of the friends jumps on the car roof with a knife and starts stabbing through the roof and ends up stabbing O’Neal. The injuries aren’t serious, but they’re enough for this car theft to be completely botched. O’Neal barely manages to get away from the angry group when he’s pulled over by police.

The movie then fast-forwards to O’Neal in a meeting with the FBI special agent who will be the one to lure O’Neal into the FBI sting: Roy Mitchell (played by Jesse Plemons), an ambitious smooth talker who asks O’Neal why he impersonated a FBI agent for a car theft. O’Neal replies, “A badge is scarier than a gun.”

Mitchell then asks O’Neal how he felt about the assassinations of MLK and Malcolm X. O’Neal replies that he was a “little bit” upset over MLK’s murder and he didn’t give much thought to Malcolm X’s murder. It’s at this point that Mitchell knows that O’Neal doesn’t care much about politics or the civil rights movement, and therefore O’Neal can be easily manipulated into being an informant.

First, Mitchell says that the only way that O’Neal can avoid prison is to work as an informant for the FBI. Whenever O’Neal starts to express doubts about being an informant (and this happens several times throughout the story), Mitchell tells O’Neal that the Black Panthers aren’t much different from the Ku Klux Klan, because Mitchell says both are radical, unpatriotic groups that want to divide people by their races and overthrow the U.S. government.

It doesn’t take long for O’Neal to infiltrate the Black Panther Party in Chicago and gain the trust of Hampton, who makes O’Neal the head of security. Hampton is a smart and magnetic leader who is respected by other party members because he often shows through words and deeds that the cause he’s fighting for isn’t about his ego but is about the people and future generations. Unlike other Black Power leaders, who wanted to keep black people separate from people of other races, Hampton embraced alliances with like-minded people of other races.

Hampton is credited with creating the Rainbow Coalition in 1969, which aimed to unite other anti-establishment groups for shared causes. It was a concept that was met with some resistance from the separatist Black Panthers, but because this is a movie, the Rainbow Coalition’s origins are a little too oversimplified and streamlined. One minute, Hampton and some other Black Panthers are showing up uninvited to meetings by the Young Patriots (a group of working-class white people) and the Young Lords (a group of Puerto Ricans) and making themselves known as unexpected allies. The next minute, Hampton is leading a Rainbow Coalition rally with members of the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots and the Young Lords in attendance.

The movie also shows how Hampton spearheaded the alignment of the Black Panthers with a Chicago-based African American gang called the Crowns, in order for the Black Panthers to have access to weapons and armed security backup. And what do you know, one of the Crowns just happens to be someone who was in that group that chased after O’Neal in that botched car theft. There’s a very “movie moment” when O’Neal is sure this guy is going to remember him, thereby making O’Neal more paranoid that his cover will be blown.

Some of the other Black Panther Party members who are featured in the movie include Jimmy Palmer (played by Ashton Sanders), Jake Winters (played by Algee Smith), Judy Harmon (played by Dominique Thorn) and Deborah Johnson (played by Dominique Fishback), a wide-eyed student who is in awe of Hampton and ends up becoming his girlfriend. In real life, Johnson is now known as Akua Njeri, and she gave birth to Fred Hampton Jr. in December 1969. Njeri and Hampton Jr. both were consultants on “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

Of course, in any movie that involves spying, there are double crosses and constant questions about loyalty, honesty and who can be trusted. The movie ramps up the tension not only outside the Black Panther Party but also within it. “Judas and the Black Messiah” also raises thought-provoking questions that will make people wonder about the prices that people pay for freedom, however freedom might be defined by individuals. And when there are informants or spies who are paid to betray, to what extent should they be branded as the “enemy”?

“Judas and the Black Messiah” has undoubtedly powerful performances by Kaluuya as Hampton and Stanfield as O’Neal. Kaluuya has the flashier role that will get more attention, mainly because there’s no ambiguity about his purpose in the film: depicting Hampton as a civil rights hero. In the few times Hampton was depicted in scripted projects before “Judas and the Black Messiah” was made, Hampton was usually a marginal character who didn’t have much depth, such as in the Netflix 2020 movie “The Trial of the Chicago 7.”

In “Judas and the Black Messiah,” Hampton is a larger-than-life personality who gets the big speeches, the leadership position at rallies, and the martyrdom when he lands in prison at the height of his power. Hampton’s biggest showcase speech scene comes after he’s released from prison and gets a hero’s welcome during a Black Panther rally in Chicago. After leading the crowd to chant, “I am a revolutionary!” several times in the speech, he declares poetically: “You can murder a liberator, but you can’t murder liberation! You can murder a revolutionary, but you can’t murder a revolution! You can murder a freedom fighter, but you can’t murder freedom!”

Stanfield has the more difficult and nuanced role as the conflicted and duplicitous O’Neal. On the one hand, O’Neal knows he’s a traitor. On the other hand, O’Neal is portrayed as someone who genuinely became friends with many people in the Black Panther Party, but he felt powerless to stop the informant deal that he made with the FBI. There are times when O’Neal shows so much loyalty to the Black Panthers that FBI agent Mitchell doubts whose side O’Neal is really on.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” doesn’t let O’Neal completely off the hook for his betrayal, but the movie gives the impression that his decisions were not about the money but about his fear of going to prison if he didn’t comply with what the FBI wanted. In real life, O’Neal gave only one TV interview about his Black Panther/FBI informant experience. It was in 1989, in an interview for the PBS show “Eyes on the Prize 2,” which aired the interview on January 15, 1990. Clips of this interview are recreated in the movie.

The performances in “Judas and the Black Messiah” are impactful and deserving of high praise. Where the movie falters is in some of the scenarios depicting the interactions between O’Neal and his FBI contact Mitchell. In the movie, Mitchell deliberately kept O’Neal’s identity a secret from most his FBI colleagues. (Hoover knew though.) Therefore, it doesn’t make sense that the movie shows O’Neal and Mitchell openly meeting several times in upscale restaurants, where O’Neal is obviously the only black person there as a dining patron. It wouldn’t have been hard for the movie’s screenwriters to keep all of the meetings between O’Neal and Mitchell in less public places.

O’Neal’s wardrobe gets a little more stylish as he starts to make more money from the FBI. But in the beginning, O’Neal definitely stands out in these restaurants because he’s dressed inappropriately (too casual) for these kinds of dining establishments. If you were to believe this movie, in 1969 Chicago, a black man in “street clothes” can walk into an upscale restaurant where all the other patrons are white, sit down, have dinner with a white man in a suit, and no one notices, stares or questions why this inappropriately dressed black man is there. Things like that would’ve definitely gotten noticed in the real world. And this scenario is not exactly O’Neal and Mitchell keeping their relationship undercover or incognito.

Another “only in a movie” contrivance is in a scene where a despondent O’Neal ends up in a bar, where a woman shows a romantic interest in him after she rejects a fur-coat-wearing motormouth at a nearby barstool. The rejected man (played by Lil Rel Howery), who is identified only as Wayne in the movie’s end credits, is a stranger to O’Neal, but Wayne drops hints that he knows that O’Neal is working for the FBI.

O’Neal, who is already feeling very uneasy, follows Wayne out to Wayne’s car and demands to know who he is. The movie, with anxiety-filled music building to a crescendo, then has Wayne reveal something that’s meant to shock O’Neal and the audience. It’s highly doubtful this confrontation ever happened in real life, but fans of the Oscar-winning 2017 horror movie “Get Out” will be happy to see “Get Out” co-stars Kaluuya, Stanfield and Howery reunited as cast members for “Judas and the Black Messiah.”

As the only women with significant speaking roles in the movie, Fishback (as Hampton’s girlfriend Johnson) and Thorne (as Black Panther member Harmon) show considerable talent, although this is definitely a male-dominated film. Johnson’s character evolves from being a star-stuck fangirl of Hampton to being a loyal romantic partner to being a strong-willed expectant mother, who can’t help but feel impending heartbreak and doom when she hears Hampton give a speech saying that he will probably die for his people. Thorne’s Harmon is a badass who can get down and dirty in fight scenes just like the men do, such as in a tension-filled shootout between the Chicago Police Department and the Black Panthers.

The flaws in the movie’s screenplay are outweighed by the significant talent of the cast members and the ability of director King to maintain a suspenseful edge. Even though many people watching this movie might already know what happened to Hampton and O’Neal in real life, “Judas and the Black Messiah” triumphs in capturing the essence of this era of the civil rights movement in America. There might be fabricated “only in a movie” moments, but the film authentically conveys the passion and necessity for civil rights.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Judas and the Black Messiah” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on February 12, 2021.

‘Black Panther’: Top 5 reasons why this superhero movie is a game changer for the entertainment industry

February 14, 2018

by Carla Hay

Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)

The Marvel Studios film “Black Panther” is set to have the largest-ever opening weekend for a Marvel superhero movie so far, and probably the biggest opening weekend of all time for a February release . According to Fandango and several media outlets, “Black Panther” (which opens on February 16, 2018) is projected to have an opening weekend of at least $150 million at the U.S. box office alone.* (“Avengers: Infinity War,” which is scheduled for release on May 4, 2018, could break that record.)**

“Black Panther” is Marvel’s first superhero movie with a black character as the headliner. (Let’s not forget that 1997’s “Spawn” starring Michael Jai White and 1998’s “Blade” starring Wesley Snipes were groundbreaking when it comes to black superheroes headlining their own movies.)

In “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman stars as the title character, an African prince named T’Challa, who leads a technologically advanced nation named Wakanda. The cast also includes several highly respected black actors, including Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, Letitia Wright and Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o. White actors in the cast include Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman.

Here are five ways “Black Panther” is a game changer in the entertainment industry:

Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira in “Black Panther” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)

1. “Black Panther” proves that a movie with black people in the majority of the prominent roles can be a major blockbuster without being a comedy.

Before “Black Panther,” the conventional wisdom in Hollywood was that any movie with mostly blacks in starring roles had to be a comedy if it had a shot of making more than $100 million at the box office. (For example, 2017’s “Girls Trip.”) Although black or multiracial actors such as Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson and Zoe Saldana have made great strides in having starring roles in big hit movies, these movies usually have casts of multiple races in the most of the prominent roles. “Black Panther” shatters the stereotype that hit movies with mostly black stars have to be low-budget and/or a comedy.

Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya and Chadwick Boseman in "Black Panther" (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)
Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya and Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)

2. “Black Panther” proves that a movie with a mostly black cast can get outstanding positive reviews—and it’s not a heavy drama about racism or the oppression of poor black people.

Let’s face it. A lot of movies with mostly black casts are saddled with the negative stereotype of having substandard filmmaking or appealing to a limited audience. It’s why movies that star Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union, Sanaa Lathan or anyone from the Wayans family tend to get reviews that are mixed but usually negative. “Black Panther” has been getting rave reviews from those who have seen it before the movie’s theatrical release. The Internet has made it much easier for people to share information and commentary about movies, so the advance positive buzz has only helped drive ticket sales.

On the flip side, critically acclaimed dramas with mostly black actors tend to be statement-heavy period films about racial or social oppression, such as “Twelve Years a Slave,” “Selma,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures.” “Black Panther” is an entertaining thrill ride, first and foremost, and is not meant to be a history lesson on the black experience. Far from being poor and/or oppressed (which is often the case with most black protagonists in black-centric movie dramas) , the black protagonists  in “Black Panther” are respected leaders, innovators and royalty.

Members of the “Black Panther” team at 2017 Comic-Con International in San Diego. Pictured from left to right:. Andy Serkis, Ryan Coogler, Forest Whitaker, Michael B. Jordan, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Iamges)

3. Black Panther” proves that blockbuster superhero movies can and should have talented people of color working behind the scenes in high-ranking positions.

“Black Panther” is directed by Ryan Coogler, the critically acclaimed African-American filmmaker who previously helmed the 2015 boxing movie “Creed” (a spinoff of the “Rocky movies”) and the 2013 indie drama “Fruitvale Station.” Coogler co-wrote the “Black Panther” screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, an African-American whose previous screen credits were the 2011 independent film “Amber Lake” and two episodes of the 2016 miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

Other African-Americans who have prominent behind-the-scenes roles on “Black Panther” include executive producer Nate Moore, production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter. In addition, several of the hair and makeup artists for “Black Panther” are African-American.

And just like “Wonder Woman” (directed by Patty Jenkins) proved in 2017, the biggest superhero movie of the year does not have to be directed by a white male. The type of inclusion shown for the “Black Panther” crew is a step in the right direction for blockbuster movies to have more diverse, qualified team members who work behind the camera. “Black Panther” is the type of movie that appeals to a diverse audience, and the people who make these kinds of movies should also be a reflection of that diversity.

Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)

4. “Black Panther” proves that a major blockbuster movie with a mostly black cast is not a “fluke” or a “fad.”

This is not a one-hit wonder. This not a passing trend. You don’t have to be a genius to know that “Black Panther” will spawn many sequels, prequels and/or spinoffs for years to come—not to mention all the money from merchandising, home video sales and other business revenue. “Black Panther” could also pave the way for more non-Caucasian superheroes to get their own headlining films.

Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o , Angela Bassett and Martin Freeman in “Black Panther” (Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios)

5. “Black Panther” proves that a superhero movie with black actors in the most prominent roles can have massive international appeal.

Movies with a mostly black cast are often mischaracterized as appealing mainly to African-American audiences and hard to sell to countries outside of North America. The unquestionable global success of “Black Panther” blows away that stereotype. Movie audiences have spoken in their choices of what tickets to buy, and the message is loud and clear: They are hungry for more variety—and if it’s high-quality, that’s even better.

*February 20, 2018 UPDATE: According to Box Office Mojo, “Black Panther” had $202 million in ticket sales at the U.S. box office from February 16 to February 18, 2018, and $242 million at the U.S. box office from February 16 to 19, 2018 (counting the Presidents Day holiday). This breaks the opening-weekend box-office records for movies that opened in February; superhero movies headlined by a solo character; movies that opened on a holiday weekend; movies that opened on a four-day weekend; and non-sequel movies.

**March 1, 2018 UPDATE: Marvel has changed the release date for “Avengers: Infinity War” from May 4 to April 27, 2018.

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