In our exclusive interview with writer/director/producer Rob Underhill, an interview which will be posted on the site very soon, Underhill stated that a film biopic based on the Narrative of The Life of Henry Box Brown is currently in the works.
Underhill helmed the arthouse film DAR HE: The Lynching of Emmet Till; that film, based on his critically acclaimed short Wolf Call, just premiered at the Pan African Film Festival last month.
The script for the Henry Box Brown film is being finalized; actor Mikey Wiley, who played all the characters in the DAR HE film, will most likely portray the Virginian slave in the 19th century who escaped slavery by traveling inside a wooden box. Unlike DAR HE, in which Wiley played all the characters, the Henry Box Brown project will bring on a full cast and hopefully some A-list talent, according to Underhill.
For those of you not familiar with the Henry Box Brown story, here’s a short history recap (courtesy of Library of Virginia):
Born into slavery in Louisa County, Henry Brown (1815 or 1816–after February 26, 1889) became a skilled worker in a Richmond tobacco factory. About 1836 he married Nancy, an enslaved woman owned by another master, and the couple had at least three children. Brown was able through overwork to rent a house for his family. In August 1848 Nancy Brown’s owner suddenly sold her and the children out of the state. With nothing to keep him in Richmond, Brown resolved to escape to freedom. Working with a free black dentist and a white shoemaker, he concocted a scheme to ship himself north. On March 23, 1849, his co-conspirators sealed Brown into a wooden crate and placed it on a train bound for Philadelphia. After twenty-six hours, Brown arrived at the office of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, where he was unboxed, alive and free.
As Henry Box Brown, he began an active career lecturing and performing. He worked with the artist Josiah Wolcott and others to create a moving panorama to illustrate his lectures about slavery. Henry Box Brown’s Mirror of Slavery opened in Boston on April 11, 1850. During the lecture, Brown would climb into a replica of the box and re-create his unboxing. By October 1850, after an abortive kidnapping attempt and fearful that he would be arrested and returned to Virginia under the new federal Fugitive Slave Act, Brown sailed for England, where he remained for more than a decade.
In his performances in England and Wales, Brown mingled his antislavery lecture and panorama with entertaining acts. In 1875 he returned to the United States with a wife, whom he had married by 1859, and a daughter. The family continued to perform as late as February 1889. The date and place of his death are unknown.
More details on the project will be released in about two weeks; I will definitely provide you with that information as soon as it becomes available.
Meanwhile, I plan to read Henry Box Brown narrative; most likely a book-to-film review will follow..