THE GOOD LORD BIRD

SHOWTIME Presents Blumhouse Television, Mark 924 Entertainment, Under the Influence Productions

Adapted from the award-winning novel of the same name by James McBride (also executive producer here), this seven-part Showtime limited series boldly yet humorously examines the enigmatic abolitionist John Brown. Part fiction, part history, part dramatic satire, the tale is narrated by a 14-year old freed slave boy (played by Joshua Caleb Johnson) who is mistaken for a girl and taken in as aide-de-camp to Brown and his small militia. The series is co-written and produced by Ethan Hawke, who also stars. Hawke’s portrayal of the mythical Brown vacillates between insane messianic figure, religious zealot, and dedicated patriot who seeks to eradicate the nation of its original sin by any means necessary. In Hawke’s hands, Brown’s competing legacies are given ample room to coexist. The miniseries can’t help but follow in his wake and gives us an irreverent history lesson that feels fresh and pressing for our times. The story’s denouement, of course, is Brown’s famous raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry—a bungled effort to start a slave liberation movement—but not before we meet Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, and other historical figures engaged in the debates and struggles to end slavery. The series smartly suggests that Brown’s ultimate mission was less about starting a successful slave insurrection as it was the public performance of guilt, redemption, and salvation for the souls of white Americans. For a rich and complex portrayal of a madman who would become a martyr, offered through the eyes of African Americans, The Good Lord Bird wins a Peabody.