Lately, I’ve been examining my deep-seated ambivalence toward films about slavery—an attitude fueled by suspicion of Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for tragic Black characters. .
These films visualize, often in a gruesome way, the horror and violence inflicted on Blacks before, during, and after the height of slavery in the chattel. There has been a recent shift in depicting victories and rebellions, but for the most part these films depict brutality. They are touted as lessons of history and used as bargaining chips to gain empathy. The fanfare around them can feel cheap and callous; seems easier for the skeptical viewer to completely opt out.
liberate, release, free
Interesting story, disappointing execution.
However, telling these stories is still important because we live in a reality where most people scorn Black lives simply by committing amnesia. This is especially true in the United States, where geography determines how history is taught. The violent case of forced slavery was rewritten to suggest voluntary labor. The case of race and the legacy of racism in schools has become illegal in some states.
This kind of climate makes movies like Antoine Fuqua’s film wobbly liberate, release, free (opens December 2 in theaters before Apple TV+ launches on December 9) with a significant burden of responsibility. So it’s disappointing that they’re no more than Oscar bait.
Written by Bill Collage, liberate, release, free is a gripping, action-oriented interpretation of the real-life story of Gordon, a slave known as “Whipped Peter”. A photograph of his disturbingly torn back was taken at a Confederate military camp in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1863 and published widely in newspapers and periodicals. The image made Northerners reluctant to speak out against slavery during the Civil War. But before Gordon became the face of the movement and a member of the Union army, he was a freedom-seeking man.
Gordon, whose name is Peter in liberate, release, free, played by Will Smith, an actor whose year is defined by a ludicrous tour of repentance. He slapped Chris Rock in March during the Oscars, a moment that spurred Hollywood to act in unprecedented ways by catching other controversial A-listers — past and present — right. responsible.
Hampered by a script that was superfluous and lacking in spirit, Smith delivered a performance marked by facial expressions, body movements, and Haitian accents that attempted to shake its researched quality. The permanent frown and furrowed brows represent the rigors of Peter’s life, while the upright posture shows unwavering self-control.
The film opens with a domestic scene, a scene that establishes Peter’s tender relationship with his wife, Dodienne (Charisma), his children and his faith. Their tender moment was interrupted when the plantation supervisors burst into their cabin to take Peter away: He was sold to a Confederate army labor camp, where he, along with the Another hundred slaves were forced to work on the railroads. liberate, release, freeHer tone is defined by these sudden, jarring shifts between soft and harsh, intimate and violent.
At the camp, Peter quickly became a symbol of defiance and bravery. His ability to look his supervisors straight in the eye as they pointed the barrel of a gun to his forehead coupled with his tolerance for injustice made him an admirable figure. Then it was easy when he overheard one of the white supervisors talking about Lincoln freeing the slaves, for him to convince another group of slaves to escape with him. They plan to reach Baton Rouge, a five-day journey that requires traversing the treacherous swamps of Louisiana.
Robert Richardson’s cinematography renders Peter’s world in a gray color. It adds a depressing atmosphere, which, in Smith’s words, becomes a “movie about freedom”. It also makes it difficult to appreciate Peter as he runs through coniferous forest, soaking in muddy swamp water and hiding among towering dense tree trunks.
Most of liberate, release, free, which runs for over 2 hours, chronicles Peter’s journey through the swamp as he flees Fassel (Ben Foster), who oversees the entire labor camp. Fassel’s success in catching the fugitives, we later learn, stems from a harsh childhood lesson: When Fassel’s father understood that his son had befriended his caretaker, a young woman, enslaved, this man killed her right in front of the boy’s eyes. Fassel has absorbed his father’s frustration, and what started out as shame has turned into what the film presents as a complex grudge.
Fassel, unlike the other white supervisors in the camp, considered enslaved men – and especially runaways – to be both persistent and intelligent. Not sure how liberate, release, free want viewers to process this information, but it seems we have to understand that Fassel, to some degree, respects Peter, adding another layer to their dangerous cat-and-mouse game.
With his extensive knowledge of the natural world, Peter is always one step ahead of Fassel. Much of the film keeps viewers hooked on Peter’s point of view, a vantage point that turns the Louisiana swamps into a terrifying landscape filled with deadly traps and potential dangers. When he doesn’t have to avoid venomous snakes or fight crocodiles, Peter devises ways to keep Fassel and his bloodthirsty hounds from sniffing him. He uses the land around him skillfully: finding onions to rub on his skin, using honey as a wound ointment, and listening to birds fly away from his cannons.
liberate, release, free treats the details of Peter’s journey with great respect and admiration, but its story, especially after he finds the Confederate army camp in Baton Rouge, makes one wonder Ask about Peter’s personality. The film has a fragile sense of straying from the swamp, making the politics of the day almost secondary to the visual spectacle of a harrowing escape. Fuqua’s natural command of the action material is most evident when Peter is battling the elements of nature or battling supervisors who catch up to him. However, quieter, more dramatic passages require a more steady and delicate hand than training day Supply director.
After Peter joined the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black regiment in the Union army, liberate, release, free turned into a mess of messages. The film brings up some interesting themes about racism in the military, the recognition that the North is not a utopia for former slaves, and questions about the limits of the military. freedom after slavery was abolished. But it doesn’t have time to delve into them.
liberate, release, free, instead, focuses on a sensational fight scene that ends with an attack on Confederate soldiers of the Indigenous Guard. Images of men – some born free, others formerly enslaved – running through fields waving American flags set an odd, discordant tone. That’s a pretty neat conclusion for a country still hiding from its past.