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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Out of the Blue: "Emperor," A Shield's Green/John Brown Movie in Production Now!

Green (1859 sketch)

For sometime we have been aware of potential John Brown projects for both cinema and television, but this one has taken us by surprise.  It appears that Mark Amin’s Sobini Films has beaten every proposed or planned production to the punch.  According to Deadline Hollywood (June 20), “Emperor,” the story of black Harper’s Ferry raider Shields Green, is now in production.  Green was one of several black men who joined John Brown at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, and joined Brown despite the low-key discouragement of Frederick Douglass, the preeminent black leader of that era.  

Douglass loved Brown and (probably) grudgingly brought Green to meet him in August 1859, months before the Harper's Ferry raid, in a secret meeting in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Green had escaped slavery and made his way North, where he came under the sway of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York.  After Douglass learned (early in 1859) that Brown intended to seize the Harper's Ferry armory, his relationship with Brown became strained.  Despite their decade-plus of friendship, Douglass deliberately and repeatedly opposed Brown's plan to invade the federal armory and seems to have communicated his disdain to African American leaders and potential recruits.  )I tend to believe it was this interference and not sickness that kept Harriet Tubman from following through.)   Indeed, Douglass probably did more to discourage free blacks from joining Brown has been reported in standard biographies.  (Note, my point is not to judge Douglass, only to suggest what seems the most likely narrative based on the evidence.  One might very well conclude that Douglass was right in his instincts, even if he overrated the security Brown faced at the armory.)

In this light, Douglass was neither proactive nor neutral in bringing Green to meet Brown, but probably did so as a kind of obligatory gesture.  When Green chose to "go wid de ol' man," as Douglass later reported, the abolitionist leader was probably surprised and dismayed.   Green was a stalwart among Brown's men and clearly was quite brave and principled as an antislavery man in his own right.  It  was reportedly a fearful experience for him to return to the South (he had to be smuggled south), but in the end Green's bravery far exceeded his fears.  He not only supported Brown in the crisis, but he remained with him down to the last desperate moments of the raid, and afterward was hanged with Brown's other captive men in December 1859, following the old man's own execution.   

Green is portrayed in this film by Dayo Okeniyi. Other cast members are Naturi Naughton, Bruce Dern, Paul Scheer, Harry Lennix, Mykelti Williamson, and Ben Robson. Interestingly, Brown will be played by veteran and Oscar-nominated actor, James Cromwell.  Cromwell’s father, John Cromwell, directed the 1940 bio-pic, “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” and chose to portray Brown in that film’s brief Harper’s Ferry scene.  Like his father, James Cromwell is sympathetic to Brown, although he has stated his disagreement with Brown’s methods—by which, we suppose, he means the Pottawatomie killings of 1856.  This is not surprising, since even some of our own friends in the John Brown community have been sufficiently miseducated to the point of being apologetic and squeamish about those Kansas killings. 

The screenplay for "Emperor" was written by Mark Amin and Pat Charles, and the film is in pre-production in Georgia.  It is produced by Cami Winikoff and Mark Amin for Sobini Pictures, and also by veteran black filmmaker Reginald Hudlin.  Sobini’s Tyler Boehm will serve as executive producer.  I hope to obtain more information to share with the John Brown community.--LD


Unknown said...

Exactly where is Shields body buried. Lewis E. Redditt , Mobile Al

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

Dear Mr. Redditt,

Unfortunately the bodies of Shields Green and John Copeland were snatched from their graves by the students of Winchester Medical College and were used for "science." The same was done with John Brown's son Watson, however, it is my understanding that in the South, black bodies were typically exploited for this purpose. Unless there is some forgotten record, it would seem the bodies were used and discarded, or parts were kept as souvenirs. Green's skull was displayed in the South in the 1880s. I'd imagine this repulsive display was in some way flaunting their power over the vulnerable black population after Reconstruction was undermined.--LD