|The Good Lord Bird|
|Based on||The Good Lord Bird|
by James McBride
|Opening theme||"Come on Children, Let's Sing" by Mahalia Jackson|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||7 (list of episodes)|
|Production location||Richmond, Virginia|
|Running time||46–57 minutes|
|Original release||October 4 –|
November 15, 2020
The Good Lord Bird is a 2020 American historical drama miniseries, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride. Focusing on John Brown's attack on American slavery, the series was created and executive produced by Ethan Hawke and Mark Richard. Produced by Jason Blum, through Blumhouse Television, it premiered on October 4, 2020, on Showtime.
The series is told from the point of view of Henry "Onion" Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a fictional enslaved boy, who is part of John Brown's (Ethan Hawke) motley crew of abolitionist soldiers during the time of Bleeding Kansas, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (since 1863, West Virginia). Brown's raid failed to initiate a slave revolt as he intended, but it was one of the events that started the American Civil War.
It is not just the story of Brown but that of those that accompanied him. According to Hawke, "If you really study this character, he asks a lot of you philosophically. He challenges why so many of us accept the unacceptable". Author James McBride was involved in the production and according to him, "John Brown is a real hero to me and to many Black people who are no longer alive. John Brown gave his life and two of his sons' lives to the cause of freedom for Black people, and he started the Civil War. They buried this man's story for a long time....".
|No.||Title ||Directed by||Written by ||Original air date ||U.S. viewers|
|1||"Meet the Lord"||Albert Hughes||Mark Richard & Ethan Hawke||October 4, 2020||0.251|
|John Brown and his "Pottawatomie Rifles", including three of his sons, in territorial Kansas meet a young runaway slave. The slave, using the nickname Onion, joins John's group; John believes Onion is a girl and gives her a new store-bought dress, intended for one of his daughters. Throughout the series whites believe Onion is a girl, but the blacks see that he's a boy. Brown's goal is to free all the slaves, which involves killing slavers, in a massacre. John's son Frederick ends up being killed, while another son abandons the group, tired of fighting.|
|2||"A Wicked Plot"||Kevin Hooks||Erika L. Johnson & Mark Richard||October 11, 2020||0.254|
|Onion and Bob get separated from the Brown party. Because Onion's skin is so light, he pretends to be white, and that Bob is his slave. Hoping to reach the abolitionist town of Tabor, Iowa, where John Brown and his sons were headed, they are taken, not happily, across the Missouri River to the fictional slave-trading town of Pikesville, Missouri; Bob is put to work in a sawmill, and Onion cleans rooms in the Pikesville Hotel. Onion is central to a planned insurrection of slaves to enable them to escape. The plan is discovered, and 9 slaves about to be hanged are rescued by John Brown and his troop, who arrive with guns and a cannon.|
|3||"Mister Fred"||Darnell Martin||Erika L. Johnson & Jeff Augustin||October 18, 2020||0.182|
|Brown, accompanied by Onion, travels by train to Rochester, New York, to talk with Frederick Douglass. Douglass delivers his famous July 4th speech. Douglass tells Brown that he cannot help him by organizing support among the blacks, as Brown wanted. Douglass is a somewhat pompous lecher, though smart and educated; he has two wives, one black and one white. He attempts to seduce Onion. Onion and John meet Emperor, a black escaped slave who is living with Douglass.|
|4||"Smells Like Bear"||Kevin Hooks||Mark Richard & Kristen SaBerre||October 25, 2020||0.235|
|Brown is being sought by federal agents; he tells Onion to spot them from the smell of the bear grease in their hair. Brown gives a fiery talk, in the style of a sermon, in response to an unexpected invitation. Violence, he preaches, is unavoidable. He meets Hugh Forbes, a soldier who fought with Garibaldi, and gives him all his cash, more than Forbes wants, to hire him to train his men in warfare; Forbes suddenly leaves town and Brown realizes he has been robbed. They will go to Canada, a civilized place. Onion is disgusted with Brown because he gave away all his money and now they have to walk to Canada, and also because he feels exploited, the token slave Brown trots out before audiences. His relationship with Brown is that of a slave to his master, he says, and he pointedly reminds Brown that he had been a slave and experienced slave life, which Brown has not, and he lived better as a slave than he has with Brown. Brown gives Onion his grandmother's Bible in atonement. Although Onion is free in Canada, he chooses to remain with Brown. Brown speaks in a church in Chatham, Ontario, the terminus of the Underground Railroad, proclaiming again the need for violence to end slavery. He speaks of the guilt of the North. He is not seeking money; he needs men. The time for words is over. He refuses to divulge his plan, which God has put in his heart. Harriet Tubman, called "General", comes forward and tells the audience to trust Brown. They start volunteering. She warns Brown that once he has set a date, he shouldn't change it. John tells his new recruits of his plan to attack Harpers Ferry, not just to free the slaves, but to start a revolution, a civil war.|
|5||"Hiving the Bees"||Haifaa al-Mansour||Mark Richard & Lauren Signorino||November 1, 2020||0.206|
|Douglass intends to be the most photographed American, but he does not smile, to put the lie to the stereotype of the "Happy Negro". Onion and Cook arrive in Maryland and get their first sight of Harper's Ferry, Brown's destination. Cook rents the Kennedy farmhouse. Onion is told he could find other blacks at Colonel Louis Washington's plantation, but blacks there throw him off the property. Maryland is a slave state and blacks think Brown will just get them in trouble. Onion talks to "the railroad man", Heyward Shepherd. The rest of Brown's army arrives. The men have to stay upstairs to avoid being seen; a neighbor, Mrs. Hoffmaster, calls three times and gets increasingly suspicious. Douglass, accompanied by Emperor, comes to Maryland to meet with Brown. Douglass says Brown's planned raid is suicidal, and he will not be a part of it. Brown is very disappointed. Emperor, however, says he will go with Brown, so Douglass returns to Rochester alone. Onion calls Douglass "a speechifying parlor-man", incapable of fighting. Onion meets Annie Brown and Oliver Brown's wife, who are doing cooking and laundry. He becomes enamored of Annie, and she of him. As the two women are being sent away before the shooting starts, Onion reveals to Annie that he is male, that he is in love with her, and that he will never see her again. He kisses her, and departs.|
|6||"Jesus Is Walkin'"||Kate Woods||Mark Richard & Erika L. Johnson||November 8, 2020||0.190|
|"Jesus is Walkin'" is the passphrase that the railroad man gives to Onion, for use when the men reach Harpers Ferry, but Onion forgets to tell them until it's too late. Jason Brown shoots the railroad man after he is confronted for not knowing the phrase. John Brown's first casualty is black. Now the railroad man can never rally the local blacks, as he was supposed to do. Brown's ragtag army is gathered together, cleaning their guns and prepping them for the night's assault on Harper's Ferry. His sons begin to talk about how last year their father gave them 17 slaves for Christmas. Every black man in the room is in disbelief until Jason explains that they were white slaves, men who Brown intimidated into submission. Owen, who has stayed behind to rally the supposed crew of hiving bees, is just as demoralized. Brown's own son has anticipated his death. Brown is the only member of the posse who believes in the hiving, so sure that he has the Lord's backing that he neglects the need for a human plan. The many negroes that are to help him never appear. Brown and his men take the Armory and station themselves inside the Armory's fire engine house, taking 50 hostages with them. He trades a hostage for breakfast for all. His men repeatedly tell him they should leave while they still can, but Brown is sure negroes will appear. Onion disobeys Brown's order to leave and save himself; he and two others go back to Col. Washington's and take him hostage and set his slaves free. Washington, who tells us pompously that he is George Washington's grandnephew, is a coward. Jim, Washington's coachman, who had kicked Onion off the plantation, tells Col. Washington he has had too many years of him; Washington had sold his mother away. They head back to Harpers Ferry in Washington's coach. The raiders that were supposed to hold the bridge are all dead. The survivors cannot get away. The townspeople realize there's been a murder, an insurrection, and call out the alarm. A stopped train departs and can give an alarm in the next town. Bullets are exchanged; the mayor of Harpers Ferry is killed, and Oliver Brown, shot, dies in his father's arms. Federal troops arrive.|
|7||"Last Words"||Michael Nankin||Mark Richard & Ethan Hawke||November 15, 2020||0.317|
|Narration from Douglass is heard explaining that the Harpers Ferry raid helped ignite the Civil War. Clarence brings Onion to Brown's prison cell, who notes that Brown had made more of an impact with his words, rather than with blunt violence. Brown's life is shown as a media event. Onion overhears a literal barbershop conversation about whether or not Brown was foolish, comparing him to Jesus. Onion notes the acceleration of public support for abolition, culminating in the Civil War. On the eve of his public hanging, Brown starts to believe that he will be more of an asset to the cause by dying than he ever was by living.|
Music in the miniseries is composed of Black musical genres: gospel, blues, and spirituals. Most is performed by Black artists or groups, with the theme song "Come On Children, Let's Sing", a gospel song, sung by Mahalia Jackson. Songs featured in the series include:
Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum adapted the 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird, for a limited series that premiered on October 4, 2020, on Showtime. The series was created and executive produced by Hawke and Mark Richard. Jason Blum, via Blumhouse Television, served as a production partner on the miniseries. Albert Hughes, Kevin Hooks, Darnell Martin, and Haifaa al-Mansour, Michael Nankin, and Kate Woods each directed an episode.
In August 2019, Daveed Diggs and Wyatt Russell signed on to portray Frederick Douglass and First Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart. In July 2019, Joshua Caleb Johnson and Rafael Casal joined the cast as Henry "Onion" Shackleford and John Cook.
Principal photography for the series began in July 2019, in Powhatan, Virginia, near Richmond.
For the series, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 98% based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.5/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Ethan Hawke dazzles in The Good Lord Bird, an epically irreverent adaptation that does right by its source material's good word." On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100 based on reviews from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."
In response to John Lahr's profile of Ethan Hawke, The New Yorker published a letter to the editor, written by Marty Brown, a descendant of John Brown. In the letter, Marty Brown welcomes the effort to bring John Brown's story to a wider audience but notes that his characterization in the series does not reflect the work of Brown's historians and biographers.
|2021||Critics' Choice Television Awards||Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie||Daveed Diggs||Nominated|||
|Joshua Caleb Johnson||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best Actor – Limited Series or Television Film||Ethan Hawke||Nominated|||
|Gotham Awards||Breakthrough Series – Long Format||The Good Lord Bird||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Performance in a New Series||Ethan Hawke||Won|
|NAACP Image Awards||Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series||Erika L. Johnson & Mark Richard (for "A Wicked Plot")||Nominated|||
|Peabody Awards||Entertainment honorees||Showtime Presents Blumhouse Television, Mark 924 Entertainment, Under the Influence Productions||Won|||
|Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Main Title Design||Efrain Montanez, Eduardo Guisandes, and Abigail Fairfax||Won|||
|Satellite Awards||Best Miniseries & Limited Series||The Good Lord Bird||Won|||
|Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film||Ethan Hawke||Won|
|Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film||Joshua Caleb Johnson||Nominated|
|Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series||Ethan Hawke||Nominated|||
|Television Critics Association Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials||The Good Lord Bird||Nominated|||
|Individual Achievement in Drama||Ethan Hawke||Nominated|
|Writers Guild of America Awards||Long Form – Adapted||Jeff Augustin, Ethan Hawke, Erika L. Johnson, Mark Richard, Kristen SaBerre, and Lauren Signorino; Based on the novel by James McBride||Nominated|||
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