Thursday, September 29, 2022

Filmmaker Stanley Nelson Announces Docs About Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman for PBS

Stanley Nelson
Director Stanley Nelson at The Castro Theatre on November 04, 2021, in San Francisco, California. (Source: Getty Images North America)

*Acclaimed filmmaker Stanley Nelson is set to debut two new documentaries on PBS next month, “Becoming Frederick Douglass” and “Harriet Tubman: Visions Of Freedom”.

Nelson (Attica, Freedom Riders, Murder of Emmett Till) teamed with Nicole London on both projects to “provide a fresh perspective and new insights into the lives of two towering figures in the struggle to end slavery,” per press release. Here’s more:

BECOMING FREDERICK DOUGLASS is the inspiring story of how a man born into slavery became one of the most prominent statesmen and influential voices for democracy in American history. Featuring the voice of Wendell Pierce as Frederick Douglass. Premieres Tuesday, October 11.

HARRIET TUBMAN: VISIONS OF FREEDOM is a rich and nuanced portrait of the woman known as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, who repeatedly risked her own life and freedom to liberate others from slavery. Narrated by Alfre Woodard and featuring the voice of Wendell Pierce as Frederick Douglass. Premieres Tuesday, October 4.

READ MORE: Cast of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Unpack Season 5 | Watch EUR Exclusive

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman, (Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Nelson spoke about the projects during the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour, where he called Douglass “a real symbol of hope, of progressiveness, of change.”

“I think that he’s all those things.  He changed in his lifetime and, you know, became somebody different over and over again.  And that’s part of what the film is about,” he added.

He went on to say of Tubman, “I was completely surprised at how many different facets there were to Harriet Tubman’s life.  You know, as a filmmaker, I’m jumping into — in the middle, you know, and learning so much about both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.”

I think one of the things that we really strove to do in these films is to show her intelligence and that she had agency.  You know, a lot of times, we think about Harriet Tubman, for whatever reason, she’s kind of being carried along by history, but, no, Harriet Tubman was in charge,” said Nelson during TCA. “There’s this great scene where she’s speaking.  She’s in the North.  She’s in Philly.  She’s speaking a lot, and she just says, you know, “Okay.  My role is really to go back down South and to free more people.”  And that — that was Harriet Tubman.  And so it’s not only her intelligence but, again, that — her agency, and we really wanted to kind of show that in this film.”

When asked about what criteria were used for casting the narrators and also the voice actors for both historical figures, Nelson explained that he and his creative team were “really fortunate to get two incredible actors to participate in the film. You know, Alfre Woodard is just an incredible actress. And, you know, we were looking around for who might just be a great voice as a narrator. We knew from the very beginning that we had to have a narrator on the HARRIET TUBMAN film and that probably we could do FREDERICK DOUGLASS without a narrator, using his own words. And then, when Wendell Pierce, the great actor who’s going to be on Broadway starting in the fall in “Death of a Salesman,” agreed to do it, we just knew we had a great voice.”

Nelson also noted that “one of the things that always stuck with me while we were making the films is that they were humans,” he said of Tubman and Douglass.

“Both of them started out enslaved. They started out in the worst possible circumstances and they personally got free.  Okay?  So they got their freedom, but that wasn’t enough. They owed something to their people, to the country, to the world, and they, you know, fulfilled that destiny.  And so I think that there’s a lesson for all of us in the lives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.”

BECOMING FREDERICK DOUGLASS premieres on PBS Tuesday, October 11.

HARRIET TUBMAN: VISIONS OF FREEDOM premieres Tuesday, October 4.

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is an entertainment reporter with over 15 years of experience working in the film industry in areas including production and post-production, marketing, distribution, and acquisitions. She has worked for legendary film producer Roger Corman, Quentin Tarantino's production team at Miramax, the late Larry Flynt, MTV/ VH1, Hallmark Channel, Paramount, Jim Henson Co., Parade Magazine, and various LA-based companies representing above-the-line talent.

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