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Giancarlo Esposito Will Direct & Play Frederick Douglass In John Brown Feature Film Starring Ed Harris

by Tambay A. Obenson
November 20, 2013 7:08 PM
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Over a year ago, in an exclusive S&A interview with Giancarlo Esposito regarding his work on RevolutionBreaking Bad, his craft and more, the actor revealed to us that he was developing a project on abolitionist John Brown that he would direct, adding that he would like to make it a miniseries for cable TV.

Skip ahead to this afternoon to news that Esposito has made progress on the project, which is now titled Patriotic Treason, and has attracted the acting talents of Ed Harris to star as Brown.

Based on the book Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America by Evan Carton, the project will not be a miniseries as Esposito originally told us he would prefer, but a feature film, which scribe Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries, On The Road) will adapt, with Esposito also co-starring, playing Frederick Douglass

The film will be produced by Spectrum Films as well as Esposito and Act 4, with a summer 2014 shoot planned. 

I should note that this is the second John Brown project announced this year. It was in July when it was revealed that another actor, Paul Giamatti, had partnered with FX to develop a mini-series on John Brown, which will trace "the true story of the abolitionist’s transformation from a lowly 50-year old farmer to a notorious anti-slavery freedom fighter in Kansas and his famed 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry."

The project, itself also based on a book, Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz, and which is expected to be 6 to 8 hours in length, is part of a two-year first-look deal Giamatti and partner Daniel Carey’s Touchy Feely Films are under with FX Productions.

Gabriel Range is adapting Horwitz’s book.

Also, long-time readers of S&A will remember that in 2009, prior to Django UnchainedQuentin Tarantino revealed his interest in making a film about John Brown, but not in the traditional "dreary, solemn, historical" manner biopics usually take form, as he stated back then, further claiming that Brown is his "favorite American who's ever lived."

Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds-style version of John Brown's story was to reimagine real life events, and would've seen Brown's successful seizure of an armory, subsequently leading directly to the end of slavery, preventing the Civil War, instead of as it really happened - Brown was unsuccessful in his attempt to start a slave revolt at Harper's Ferry in 1859; however that occurrence helped fuel the movement that started the Civil War.

This all came on the heels of his success with Inglorious Basterds.

No John Brown film from Tarantino on the horizon though (as far as we know), and we're not sure if we will ever see one.

But I'm looking forward to seeing what Giancarlo Esposito does with the material, especially now that it's going to be a feature film instead, and he'll be co-starring, playing Frederick Douglass.

So... might a Nat Turner mini-series or film be next? Don't hold your breath...

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More: Giancarlo Esposito, Ed Harris

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  • JTC | November 24, 2013 6:03 PMReply

    Who do you guys think are a few of the actors would make a strong Frederick Douglass?

  • urbanauteur | November 23, 2013 3:38 PMReply

    Clarke Peters would make a good Frederick Douglass..IMHO.

  • Amina | November 21, 2013 5:19 PMReply

    I hope he does a good job with this for John Brown and Frederick Douglas in my mind were liberation heroes. If there was such a thing as a time tunnel; I'd like to return to that fateful day and sit on a nearby tree stump or the ground and listen to those two debate the merits of armed conflict. Yes, Mr. Douglas was an established societal figure, however, he had the grace and good sense not to put Mr. Brown down for his attempts. Frederick Douglass' remarks from the safety of Canada about John Brown were "His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine—it was as the burning sun to my taper light—mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him." I do believe, that John Brown was naive in thinking that once slaves were given guns they would fight in the liberation army. He failed to understand that the chains of slavery bind the mind and spirit as well as the body. His sentiments upon John Brown's death were classic and courageous for he could have risked losing what personal gains he had made in the struggle for his personal and group freedom. Imagine, how perplexing and compromising it was to fight for ideas and freedoms that weren't afforded them. John Brown was a wake-up call like so many of those varyingly "incidents" by abolitionists during that time. Douglas made some changes, however, when he died and was buried in my hometown; black folks were still catching hell.
    I must admit that I was disappointed that Mr. Douglass' role and relationship to the President and his sons' roles in the civil war were ignored in 'Lincoln'. Viewed an interview with the screen writer and he wasn't impressed enough with Mr. Douglass' efforts. In fact, I had the impression that he expressed what a lot of whites feel about our efforts in our struggle to be free. Our struggles, death and hardships would mean nothing if there wasn't a white powerful figure to make it a realization. Oh... but surely they were the catalysts and fought in ways that the former wouldn't and couldn't endure. I thought of the faux pas, Hillary Clinton made when she said civil rights advances would not have been a reality if Lyndon Johnson hadn't signed the bill although Dr. King and others fought long and hard for it. I shall close now ....for I could go on and on. Maybe, there will be biopics of Frederick Douglas, Ida B Wells, Harriett Tubman and many others and they will surely be disappointing to some and enabling to others.

  • Donella | November 23, 2013 11:58 AM

    Frederick Douglass, Ida B Wells, and Harriet Tubman are my top 3 as well.

  • davyjc | November 21, 2013 4:02 PMReply

    As most know, the real story is not John Brown but Frederick Douglass. By time he met John Brown, Douglass was a highly celebrated author and world traveling abolishionist who owed his own newspaper. He was completely against Brown's actions because he knew the backlash. Why Douglass' story has not be told yet? He was left completely out of "Lincoln." He was a part of the President's kitchen cabinet and with two sons fighting in the war! Frederick Douglass had many lives and it is about time his life is made into a film. Brown was an incident. Douglass made change.

  • Katie | November 23, 2013 11:14 AM

    You summed up my thoughts excatly. Once again, the White man is the protagonist and Black abolitionist are seen as a second thought. I loved Esposito in Breaking Bad, but Imma have to pass. I refuse to support films that uphold white superiority, that they're the pinnacle of humanity when it was Whites to put Blacks in their situation.

  • mia | November 21, 2013 7:39 AMReply

    looks good...

  • BLACKMAN | November 21, 2013 1:35 AMReply

    Hopefully John Brown will be played with the poise of a White man that is TIRED of white people's psychopatic insanity. This means John Brown is the sane one and white slavery is INSANITY

  • KS | November 20, 2013 9:57 PMReply

    you are correct. the dynamic is important as douglas was NOT with John on his plan to invade the south- he was against and was very vocal about that fact. incredible untold story of their relationship and mutual respect- though on opposite ends of what actions should and should not be taken to end slavery. and ice cube should play Nat.

  • Donella | November 21, 2013 2:31 PM

    Would be interesting to see if they involve Harriet Tubman, a contemporary, who John Brown also tried to recruit to his cause. She demurred due to a dream/vision that foretold destruction.

  • Africameleon | November 20, 2013 9:26 PMReply

    I'm excited about this project. However, I'll wait to see what they do with Douglass in this pic, so far I've been unhappy with his treatment and neglect in major Hollywood feature films. I love Esposito's casting, and Ed Harris may be descent.

    If there was a Nat Turner bio pic, who do you think should play the lead?

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