Civil action
Total Film|December 2020
THE GOOD LORD BIRD FLIES IN THE FACE OF PERIOD-DRAMA CONVENTION…
Tara Bennett

When it comes to depictions of the American Civil War, certain key players are typically high in the mix, from President Lincoln to Generals Grant and Lee. But abolitionist John Brown, whose actions technically instigated the four-year conflict, is usually a footnote. With their new miniseries, The Good Lord Bird, writer/executive producer James McBride (who wrote the novel on which the show is based), and actors Ethan Hawke and Joshua Caleb Johnson aim to remedy that blindspot...

What originally most interested you about Brown?

JAMES MCBRIDE (exec producer):

John Brown was 57 when this all started. He had been a peaceful farmer his whole life. When he went to Kansas and he saw the pro-slavers, how violent they were, he just attacked them with the strength and resolve of a good old-fashioned New Englander Yankee. He did essentially help Kansas flip to become a free state. John Brown [effectively] started the Civil War. He was the guy who brought it to America’s doorsteps.

Americans can actually learn how to discuss our history in ways where we are not slapping each other in the face and punching each other out. We have to find ways to talk about race where we have real discourse – and this is the means. This is the road in. This guy showed us how to do it.

Brown hasn’t been portrayed a good deal on-screen…

ETHAN HAWKE (John Brown):

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