By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
“The Good Lord Bird,” a new limited series starring Ethan Hawke as abolitionist John Brown, premiered on SHOWTIME® on October 4.
Based on the National Book Award-winning novel by bestselling author James McBride, the series is produced by Blumhouse Television, the studio behind the Golden Globe® Award-winning and Critics’ Choice®, Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild Award® nominated series “The Loudest Voice.”
“The Good Lord Bird” is told from the point of view of Onion (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a fictional enslaved boy who becomes a member of Brown’s motley family of abolitionist soldiers during Bleeding Kansas – a time when the state was a battleground between pro- and anti-slavery forces – and eventually finds himself participating in the famous 1859 raid on the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry. Brown’s raid failed to initiate the slave revolt he intended but was an event that hastened the Civil War.
“The Good Lord Bird” weaves a humorous, dramatic, and historical tapestry of Antebellum America, spotlighting the complicated and ever-changing racial, religious and gender roles that make up the American identity. It is amazing to see Johnson play a young girl, as he is forced to do so when his father is killed right in front of his face. Although his name is Henry, Brown and others at the scene of the slaughter heard Henrietta, and he goes most of the series dressing as a girl and assuming a girl’s deportment.
The series also stars Critics’ Choice winner and Screen Actors Guild Award nominee Ellar Coltrane, Nick Eversman, Beau Knapp, Mo Brings Plenty, Jack Alcott and Hubert Point-Du Jour. Also included is a roster of talented guest stars, including Tony® Award winner Daveed Diggs as abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Emmy® nominee David Morse as Dutch Henry Sherman, Steve Zahn as Chase, Maya Hawke as Annie Brown, Wyatt Russell as federal officer Jeb Stuart and Orlando Jones as The Rail Man, among others.
This series takes several wild liberties while telling the story of John Brown’s raid, but it doesn’t veer from the intent of the mission—to free as many slaves as possible. During its travels with John Brown, the contingent meets Douglass, played by Diggs, who if history is correct, revels us with his grand oratory, while entertaining his wife and mistress in his fabulous mansion. We also meet Harriet Tubman, played by British actress Zainab Jab—both of whom won’t saddle up with John Brown on what they view as an outrageous endeavor.
“The Good Lord Bird” is executive produced by James McBride, Brian Taylor, Ethan Hawke, Ryan Hawke, Jason Blum, Mark Richard, Padraic McKinley, Marshall Persinger and David Schiff.