HBO continues the documentation of the legacy of one of the most well-known anti-slavery activists with Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches. The documentary, which premieres on February 23 at 9pm on HBO and will be able to stream on HBO Max, is inspired by David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.”
Named the most famous Black man in the 19th century, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery at twenty years old and became a self-taught writer and orator. His first autobiography is arguably one of the most read slave narratives, and his work as an abolitionist continues to be impactful to this day.
Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches is guided entirely by Douglass’ own words about this country’s struggle for Black freedom and equality.
Executive produced by renowned scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., the upcoming film brings to life the words of five different speeches from Douglass’ career through the performances of prominent modern Black actors. Each speech reflects different moments in Douglass’ life, paralleling the history-defining moments of 19th century America.
Blight, Gates, Jr. and others will provide context for the speeches while André Holland’s readings from Douglass’ autobiographies, remind us that Douglass’ words about racial injustice still resonate deeply today.
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Denzel Whitaker (Training Day, Black Panther) performs the 1841 speech “I Have Come To Tell You Something About Slavery” where Douglass recounts his story of being raised as a slave publicly for the first time.
Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) performs the speech “Country, Conscience, And The Anti-Slavery Cause. Delivered in 1847, Douglass’ words address the American Anti-Slavery Society on his return from the British Idles which he found to be more accepting and equitable than his own country.
Nicole Beharie (Black Mirror, Miss Juneteenth) performs “What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July?” a speech where, in 1852, Douglass discusses the continuing enslavement of his people seven decades after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk, Euphoria) performs “The Proclamation And A Negro Army” which was delivered in 1863 and is Douglass’ response to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Jeffrey Wright (Angels in America, James Bond franchise) performs the 1894 speech “Lessons Of The Hour” which features Douglass urging America to eliminate prejudice and look to its founding principles.
Contextualizing Douglass’ writings are scholars David Blight, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Sarah Lewis and Keidrick Roy, artist Bisa Butler, poet Nzadi Keita, and Douglass descendant Ken Morris who offer perspective on Douglass’ modern relevance and the unprecedented level of fame and influence to which he rose.