The HBO documentary Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches brings to life the words of our country’s most famous anti-slavery activist. Actors Nicole Beharie (Scenes from a Marriage), Colman Domingo (Euphoria), Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country), Denzel Whitaker and Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) draw from five of Douglass’ legendary speeches, to represent a different moment in the tumultuous history of 19th century America as well as a different stage of Douglass’ long and celebrated life. Inspired by David Blight’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom and executive produced by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Black Art: In the Absence of Light), the film features narration of Douglass’ autobiographies by André Holland and context provided by Blight and Gates to remind us how Frederick Douglass’ words about racial injustice still resonate deeply today.
After his escape from slavery at age 20, Frederick Douglass went on to become the most famous Black man in the nineteenth century, known for the power of his words. Entirely self-taught, Douglass was a powerful writer and master orator, crafting speeches that called out American hypocrisy and challenged the nation to live up to its founding principles. Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches offers a new approach to understanding Douglass’ story, guided entirely by his own words to chart his rise from a passionate young agitator to a composed statesman, and ultimately to a disenchanted but still hopeful older man. Though his actual voice was never recorded, the power of these performances offers an opportunity to hear the potency of his words with timely urgency over a century after his time.
“I Have Come To Tell You Something About Slavery” (1841) performed by Denzel Whitaker. At an anti-slavery convention, Douglass recounts his story of being raised as a slave publicly for the first time.
“Country, Conscience, And The Anti-Slavery Cause” (1847) performed by Jonathan Majors. Douglass addresses the American Anti-Slavery Society on his return from the British Isles which he found to be more accepting and equitable than his own country.
“What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July?” (1852) performed by Nicole Beharie. Douglass reminds his audience of the continuing enslavement of his people, 76 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
“The Proclamation And A Negro Army” (1863) performed by Colman Domingo. Douglass responds to the Emancipation Proclamation and calls for the Black man to be allowed to fight in the war.
“Lessons Of The Hour” (1894) performed by Jeffrey Wright. Douglass urges America to eliminate prejudice and look to its founding principles.
Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches is a McGee Media & Inkwell Media Production. Directed by Julia Marchesi; produced by Oluwaseun Babalola, edited by Derek Ambrosi; narration by Andre Holland; historical consultant, David Blight; executive produced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Dyllan McGee.