Ethan Hawke stars as John Brown in this limited series based on James McBride’s semi-historical novel.
The story of the famous abolitionist is told from the point of view of “Onion,” a fictional enslaved boy who becomes a member of Brown’s abolitionist soldiers battling slavery in Kansas. The series leads up to the famous 1859 raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
The film begins during the final years of Brown’s life and is told through the eyes of Henry ‘Onion’ Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), an enslaved boy who is violently freed by Brown and then promptly mistaken for a girl and nicknamed Onion. Through Onion, we get a front-row seat to Brown’s single-minded faith, his violent attacks on slave owners, and his eventual execution by the state.
While Onion is trying for the most part to simply survive, John Brown is on a crusade to abolish slavery. Along the way they seek support from Harriet Tubman (Zainab Jah) and Frederick Douglass (Daveed Diggs).
Hawke delivers a portrait of a Brown as a man of extraordinary conviction and faith in the message of equality reflected in both Scripture and the Constitution. Brown is so devoted to his mission to free every slave that he’s dissatisfied with anything less than direct, violent action.
This series, like McBride’s book, captured my imagination and encouraged me to learn more about Brown. Brilliant writing, beautiful set design and deep, rich, captivating characters make The Good Lord Bird a terrific combination of history, edgy humor, drama, and adventure.