Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches (2022)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Julia Marchesi
Run Time
58 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey...

Exodus 3:7-8a
For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.

Douglass, "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"

Although in just 54 minutes director Julia Marchesi cannot possibly include all of the massive amount of information in David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, she does an excellent job in portraying the man and his great influence upon his times, and especially upon President Lincoln. By focusing on five of his most important speeches and pairing them with five black actors who render mesmerizing performances of them– Nicole Beharie, Colman Domingo, Denzel Whitaker, Jeffrey White, and Jonathan Majors– each matched in age to the orator when he gave the speech, Marchesi shows us what a tremendous public speaker he was and how his impact on his times grew as he progressed in age and intellect.

Given by “the most famous black man of the 19th century,” the five speeches well support the claim that he was Lincoln’s equal in public speaking. The speeches are:

    1. “I Have Come To Tell You Something About Slavery,” performed by Denzel Whitaker and given by the young Douglas in 1841 at an anti-slavery convention, in which he first reveals the details of being raised a slave.
    2. “Country, Conscience, And The Anti-Slavery Cause,” performed by Jonathan Majors, was delivered in 1847 to the American Anti-Slavery Society. He states that during his tour of the British Isles he was accepted more and treated more equitably than in his own country.
    3. “What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July?” passionately performed by Nicole Beharie. Given in 1852 and included in the excellent docudrama Sons and Daughters of Thunder, this is the orator’s caustic view of the Declaration of Independence as being hypocritical.
    4. “The Proclamation And A Negro Army, ” performed by Colman Domingo, this is Douglas’s response in 1963 to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and calls for the Black man to be allowed to fight in the war, something which he felt necessary for Blacks to uphold their dignity.
    5. “Lessons Of The Hour,” performed by Jeffrey Wright, given in 1894 near the end of his long career as a prophet calling America to eliminate prejudice and live up to its founding principles.

Along with cogent observations made by the actors are insertions of commentary by scholar/Filmmaker, Henry Louis Gates. and historian, David Blight. The film is narrated by by André Holland. If only history had been presented to us so graphically during our high school days in our American History classes!

Available on HBO Max.

This review will be in the April issue of VP along with how to access the excellent Discussion Guide offered by the film’s producers. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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