Two original documentaries that shed new light on the lives of a pair of towering figures in the struggle to end slavery – Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass – premiere on PBS in October. Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom premieres Tuesday, October 4, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET, and Becoming Frederick Douglass premieres Tuesday, October 11, 10:00-11:00 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS. Both films will stream on PBS.org and the PBS Video App.
Co-productions of Firelight Films and Maryland Public Television (MPT), the films are directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Attica, Freedom Riders, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution) and Nicole London.
Oscar-nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor Alfre Woodard is the narrator of Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and acclaimed actor Wendell Pierce is the voice of Frederick Douglass in both films.
Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom is a rich and nuanced portrait of the woman known as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, who repeatedly risked her own life and freedom to liberate others from slavery. Born in Dorchester County, Maryland – 2022 marks her bicentennial celebration – Tubman escaped north to Philadelphia in 1849, covering more than 100 miles alone. Once there, she became involved in the abolitionist movement and, through the Underground Railroad, guided an estimated 70 enslaved people to freedom. She would go on to serve as a Civil War scout, nurse, and spy, never wavering in her pursuit of equality. Featuring more than 20 historians and experts and grounded in the most recent scholarship, the film goes beyond the standard narrative to explore what motivated Tubman, including divine inspiration, to become one of the greatest freedom fighters in our nation's history.
"With this film, our aim was to go beyond what is covered in history books to create a real, three-dimensional portrait of who Harriet Tubman actually was," Nelson said. "We wanted to examine what motivated her to pursue a revolutionary and often dangerous journey, particularly through her fierce religiosity and metaphysical connection to the divine. This film also has such a distinct sonic layer thanks to powerful narration by the great Alfre Woodard."
Becoming Frederick Douglass is the inspiring story of how a man born into slavery became one of the most prominent statesmen and influential voices for democracy in American history. Born in 1818 on Maryland's Eastern Shore, he escaped from slavery in 1838 and went on to become the most well-known leader of the abolitionist movement. A gifted writer and powerful, charismatic orator, it is estimated that more Americans heard Douglass speak than any other 19th-century figure, Black or white. The documentary explores how Douglass controlled his own image and narrative, embracing photography as a tool for social justice, and the role he played in securing the right to freedom and complete equality for African Americans.
"Given that Frederick Douglass was one of the most prolific and powerful orators of his time, we were interested in exploring how he created and controlled his image, and ultimately how he used it to shift public opinion around abolition," said Nelson. "It was such a gift to have the inimitable Wendell Pierce provide the voice of Douglass to bring his words to life. Wendell's dynamic performance, coupled with the many stunning photographs taken throughout Douglass's lifetime, show how Douglass evolved to become one of the most influential and enduring social justice activists in American history."
Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass will stream simultaneously with broadcast and be available on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.
Additional information and resources about the films are available at tubmandouglassfilms.com.
Executive producers for Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass are Stanley Nelson and Lynne Robinson. The films are produced and directed by Stanley Nelson and Nicole London. Keith M. Brown and Michael English are the executives in charge of production. Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom was written by Paul Taylor, Nicole London, and Marcia Smith. Becoming Frederick Douglass was written by Anne Seidlitz.
Harriet Tubman: Visions of Freedom and Becoming Frederick Douglass are co-productions of Firelight Films and Maryland Public Television with an appropriation from the State of Maryland. These programs are also made possible by Bowie State University, DIRECTV, and Pfizer, Inc. Bowie State is the oldest Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Maryland and the first HBCU to become a premier sponsor of a national PBS film.