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.)
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