Out today on Digital and DVD is the latest film to feature an American slave narrative, EMPEROR, which chronicles the escape of Shields Green to the North and his involvement in the rebellion at Harper’s Ferry. The story boasts that it is “inspired by a true legend” and takes liberties with what some actually believe may have sparked Green’s escape and definitely what we know to be the end of his story.
Here’s the synopsis: “Emperor” is based on the iconic American freedom fighter and legend Shields “Emperor” Green (Dayo Okeniyi, Terminator Genisys, Shades of Blue) a descendant of African kings turned outlaw slave. The film tells the tale of Green’s escape from slavery and his transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes. Seeking freedom for his family, Emperor fights his way north, joining the daring raid on Harper’s Ferry, the key battle of the abolitionist movement which helped spark the beginning of the Civil War and alter the course of American history.
I must be honest, y’all already know how I feel about slave films but, for those who don’t, here’s a reminder from a 2016 comment I made on my review post of “Free State of Jones,”
“There are stories, I personally admire Venture Smith’s for one, of slaves who held their own and lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, we know Nat Turner’s forthcoming movie will have a much more tragic ending; however he incited others and had a lasting impact. I personally would like to see equal telling of those stories, but what we often get is watered down and has to have a white lead to carry the film.”
Now, I love the fact that Emperor, in taking certain liberties, does display Green’s impact in a greater sense and also allows a more favorable ending than his actual story (and that’s the most I’ll say about that since this is a non-spoiler site).
I also like the casting, the women in particular with Kat Graham (I enjoyed her portrayal of Jada Pinkett-Smith in All Eyez On Me), Naturi Naughton (Power), and Ms. Dorothy Steel – the latter of whom has been on a roll since her casting at age 88 in Black Panther. And it’s always nice to see veteran actor, and a fave, Harry Lennix (Revival, Man of Steel) who portrays Frederick Douglass.
And speaking of Douglass, the movie also re-imagines the meeting between John Brown and Green – which actually happened at the home of Frederick Douglass as told in his autobiography “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”
However, with comparisons like Taken meets Django Unchained by other critics, I found the film not as strong in its telling – nor was Green’s journey to freedom, or the difficulty of his escape, as intense as I expected (the one exception being a river scene, but again non-spoiler site!).
With a PG-13 rating, the film is definitely one that can be viewed by various ages/multiple family members, minus those tiny ones, and is similar to 2019’s Harriet if you’re looking to spark an educational conversation. It also has a really cool, modern score and is reminiscent of the canceled television series “Underground” in that respect.
All in all, the film is an okay story that fell short in its intensity, and sometimes believability, but has solid performances despite the aforementioned. Lead Dayo Okeniyi does his best with what he’s given and it’s easy to become invested in his character’s journey. I would rate the film 2.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
EMPEROR is out today on Digital and DVD. Click here to go to the official website and scroll below to watch a trailer.
Until next thought, Thomasena