With just about every post on this site announcing the production of a movie centered around stories of slavery in the United States, the inevitable question asked by readers, comes in the form of something like: what’s the deal with all these slave-themed movies?
Indeed… what’s the deal?
To summarize a recent post in which I gave one potential answer to that quesiton – Hollywood seems to be in a *celebratory* mood, if we can call it that, honoring the 150 year anniversary of the Civil War, and those 4 years that would eventually lead to making slavery illegal in this country – USA. Although I should note that not every project is set in slavery-era USA.
For the longer explanation, feel free to read that post HERE.
Otherwise, let’s move on.
If you’re already exhausted by what we can call “slave movie fever,” with films like Case départ, Django and Lincoln especially behind us (although conversation about those films continues – especially the last 2), you should know that there are several more on the way, scheduled to be released throughout 2013; and I thought I’d take a look at some of them (those that we’re currently aware of anyway), and hopefully get your prepped and ready for the wave that’s to come.
Without further ado, let me just dive right in. As previously noted, not every project is set in slavery-era USA, and there are a few that aren’t Hollywood productions – some are indies; others are *foreign*.
Here we go:
1 – Of course, the one that I think we’re all most aware of and even looking forward to is Steve McQueen‘s Twelve Years A Slave, which stars a rather impressive cast of actors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Ruth Negga, Adepero Oduye, Alfre Woodard, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scoot McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and others. No word yet on a release date for the film; but I’m expecting it to debut on the international film festival circuit – quite possibly the Cannes Film Festival – en route to other top-tier film festivals before opening in USA theaters in the early fall. I expect it to be an awards season favorite, especially in key roles both in front of and behind the camera, so a fall opening makes sense. A trailer should debut soon.
2 – It could be a big year for Chiwetel Ejiofor, thanks to the aforementioned Twelve Years A Slave, but also because he stars in the film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half Of A Yellow Sun, itself also an acclaimed work that might translate into an acclaimed film, that, if released in the USA this year, could mean double kudos for Mr Ejiofor. But another slave-themed film he stars in that’s expected to debut this year, is a drama titled Savannah, which also stars James Caviezel. The film is yet another historical epic, based on real events, set during post-Civil War days, in which Caviezel stars as the real-life, “well-educated, eccentric, larger-than-life hunter” named Ward Allen who develops a unique friendship with a freed slave named Christmas Moultrie, played by Ejiofor. The film is loosely based on a book by John Eugene Cay, Jr., titled, Ducks, Dogs and Friends, which tells the story of Christmas Moultrie (the last slave born on the historical Mulberry Grove Plantation, where the Cotton Gin was invented), who hunted on the Savannah River, together with Ward Allen, and his Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Our last post on this was in mid-2012, in which Vanessa noted that the film was in post-production, with a release date scheduled for sometime last year. But that never happened, as far as we know; meaning, it’s likely been pushed to this year.
3. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in Something Whispered, a tale set in 1850, which centers on a man named Samuel (Gooding), who attempts to free his family from institutionalized slavery, intent on escaping from the tobacco plantation they have been forced to call their home for two generations. Heading north towards Canada, via the Underground Railroad, they are tracked by a group of ruthless hired slave hunters. Sharon Leal co-stars, playing Cuba’s wife, in a cast of dozens, that also includes William Sadler. It’s being directed by Peter Cousens’ whose resume is full of lots of TV work, so it could very well be a made-for-TV movie; or direct-to-video, since Cuba has done lots of direct-to-video work in recent years. Although I could be wrong, given how many slave-themed movies are expected to be released this year. As of December, the film was in post-production. No exact ETA yet.
4. Former NFL linebacker Jeremiah Trotter stars as escaped slave Big Ben Jones, alongside Keith David as Frederick Douglass, in writer/director Thomas K. Phillips’ upcoming indie feature film, The North Star, which we first alerted you to several months ago. The film is based on true events, and tells the story of Big Ben Jones, a slave who makes a daring escape from a Virginia plantation to Buckingham, PA in 1848, and gets helped by local Quakers. In addition to Trotter and David, the film’s cast includes Clifton Powell, Michael Rapaport, Lynn Whitfield, Michael Jai White, April Woodall, Jermaine Jones, and Alana Lee. It’s not yet public what characters each of these other actors are playing in the film. I wonder who’s playing Harriet Tubman (she’s on the character list). In November, the film was listed as being in post-production. So it could very well debut, likely on the film festival circuit, some time later this year.
5. British actor/writer/director/producer Amma Asante’s period drama, titled Belle, about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl, in the 1700s, stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam Claflin, and Matthew Goode. The story takes place in the 1780s, and is based on a true story – specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England; it follows Belle, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave emancipation. Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle. Mbatha-Raw is of course playing the lead role. The project, which was developed and supported by the British Film Institute, also co-stars Tom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle’s love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey). It’s expected to be delivered this spring; I’m also expecting a Cannes debut for it.
6. Nicole Beharie co-stars in a Civil War drama titled The Keeping Room, alongside Olivia Wilde and Hailee Steinfeld. The film will tell the story of 3 Southern women (2 of them sisters, and the third, a slave) who are forced to defend their home in the last days of the war, against a large group of soldiers who have broken off from the Union Army. Wilde and Steinfeld will play the sisters, while Beharie will play the slave. The Keeping Room will be directed by Daniel Barber, from a script written by Julia Hart. Financing/producing will be by Wind Dancer Films (the company that also backed What Women Want). Producers call the project “cinematic, thrilling and dangerous,” one that is full of “profound themes.” Principal photography is set to begin in March, in North Carolina, so it may not debut this year, but it’s not entirely impossible.
7. Danny Glover co-stars in the upcoming slave uprising film, Tula, The Revolt, from Dutch director Jeroen Leinders, which is based on a true story about a slave uprising on the island of Curacao, a Dutch colony in 1795, and the man called Tula, who stood up against his oppressors, and led the revolt that would last about a month. Glover leads a pack of international actors that also includes Obi Abili, Jeroen Krabbé,Derek de Lint, Henriette Tol and Barry Hay. Obi Abili (a UK actor of Nigerian decent) will star in the film as the titular Tula, while Glover will play Shinishi, the elder of the group, a role that the producers are calling a very important one. The film is currently in post-production, as the filmmakers hope to release it in 2013, a year that marks the 150th anniversary since slavery was finally abolished on the island of Curacao (1863). The producers are calling it an action-drama.
So that’s it… for now anyway. I’m sure there are others we’re not currently aware of, or that will be announced, or will debut on the film festival circuit during the year. As we learn about them, this list will be updated.
There are a few other projects that have been announced, but likely won’t be released this year, if at all, since there has been no production movement on them that we know of. So I’ll keep those off the list until we receive evidence that they have indeed been packaged and financed, and are ready to proceed.
And if you’re one of those moaning this *celebration* of some of the most challenging, and influential times in our history, two progressive items worth mentioning that are common among most of the 7 projects above, are that: first, they are told from the POV of a character of African descent, or they tell stories that center primarily around a character of African descent. Not all of them, but most of them are.
And secondly, for about half of them, key roles behind the camera (writer, director especially) are filled by people of African descent.
Let’s see which of these lands upon us first.