Renowned Hollywood producer Reginald Hudlin earned Oscar and PGA nominations for “Django Unchained” (2012) and an Emmy bid for producing the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony, and now he’s back in the awards conversation thanks to “Emperor.” Sobini Films’ production is inspired by the true story of Shields “Emperor” Green (played by Dayo Okeniyi), a slave in 1850s South Carolina who kills his owners and flees his plantation after his son is whipped. “I’ve taken lashes my whole life to keep my family safe, but they will never whip my son again,” Emperor proclaims in the trailer (watch above).
Mark Amin co-wrote (with Pat Charles) and directed the movie that follows Emperor’s harrowing journey through pre-Civil War America. Eventually the man joins up with iconic historical figures John Brown (James Cromwell) and Frederick Douglass (Harry Lennix), who are fighting to end slavery.
One of Gold Derby’s Oscar Experts, Scott Mantz, recently interviewed Hudlin and other “Emperor” talents for the Producers Guild of America. “I have an ancestor who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad,” Hudlin revealed. “He would take folks in, hide them underneath the house and then send them on to their next location. So our family has always been a very politically active family who’s put education first.”
Hudlin has always been a fan of these types of true-life tales, and when he read Amin’s script, he realized, “Oh man! This is exactly the kind of story I want to tell.” When people tell him that they’re “tired” of slavery stories, the producer’s response is: “Yeah, me too, but this isn’t that. This is a freedom story. This is a story about people who are taking charge of themselves and really making the promise of America come true by fighting for freedom.”
Critics were positive in their reviews of the movie, with Peter Debruge (Variety) calling Okeniyi a “striking discovery” and writing, “‘Emperor’ has found a Black hero to champion during this dark chapter of American history.” Abbie Bernstein (Assignment X) notes, “Green is an active, charismatic figure as played by Okeniyi, and we’re firmly on his side.” And Todd Jorgenson (Cinemalogue) says the film gives a “timely portrait of courage and resilience.”
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