Emperor is a new historical action-adventure inspired by the little-known legend of forgotten hero and 19th century freedom fighter, Shields “Emperor” Green. What’s more, it’s coming to the UK on DVD and Digital platforms, so audiences can discover this crucial figure for themselves.
In the film, we meet Emperor working on a plantation but, after a callous act of violence against his family, resorting to his own justice, he finds himself on the run as a wanted man. Fleeing the law, bounty hunters and betrayers at every turn, he fights his way north, joining forces with abolitionist John Brown for a dangerous raid on Harper’s Ferry, changing the course of American history forever.
From writer and director Mark Amin (also a producer behind Miles Ahead, Good Kill and more) and producer Reginald Hudlin (The Black Godfather, Django Unchained), the film boasts a large and diverse ensemble cast.
Rising star Dayo Okeniyi (The Hunger Games, Shades of Blue) plays the titular hero, while the supporting players include Ben Robson (Animal Kingdom, Vikings), James Cromwell (The Young Pope, The Green Mile), Kat Graham (All Eyez on Me, The Vampire Diaries), Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight, Nebraska), Mykelti Williamson (Heat, Forrest Gump) and James Le Gros (Justified, Sleeper Cell).
The film is a fast-paced and uplifting adventure blending history with storytelling, avoiding the darker, heavier tone which could easily be applied to its subject. Yet it’s recently been nominated for two NAACP Image Awards, proof that it’s resonating well with audiences.
As we get ready for the UK release on Digital from 1st March and DVD from 5th April, we’ll take a look at some true facts behind the astonishing, yet tragically little-known story of Shields Green.
It’s been argued that important figures like Shields Green are often played down in history and seldom taught in schools. The reasons could be politically motivated, suppressing stories that may have inspired uprisings, or simply a lack of historical text. A narration at the beginning of Emperor says, “the history of the Civil War was written by white men to serve their own agenda. It’s time for a black man to tell his own story.”
Fact Meets Fiction
While historians know Green was born in Charleston, South Carolina, no one knows his exact date of birth (though it was sometime in 1836). And since fugitive slaves would understandably avoid leaving a trail, combined with reports that he was a man of few words, there is little information on his early life. In Emperor, the filmmakers take important clues about Green’s life and actions and weave them into a story of how he became a revolutionary.
The Frederick Douglass Connection
Very little is known about Green before he met social reformer Frederick Douglass. Douglass would go on to write about his interactions with Green in his many, bestselling books. Douglass, himself, escaped from slavery in Maryland and became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his eloquent speeches and writing.
Meeting John Brown
One of the most important moments in Green’s life, and a key part of the film, is when he meets abolitionist figure John Brown through their mutual friend, Frederick Douglass. During a subsequent meeting planning the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Brown tried to convince Douglass to join them, thinking it would bring credibility and help motivate more slaves. However, Douglass declined, believing it would be suicidal.
During the battle at Harper’s Ferry, according to historical news reports, Green could have shot Colonel Robert E. Lee when he pointed a gun at him outside the fort walls, but he didn’t. Later, Lee became commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.
While historians don’t know Green’s exact birthdate, we know he died on 16th December 1859 when he was hanged along with fellow abolitionist, John Copeland, two weeks after John Brown who led the raid. Green’s exact age when he died is still unknown, but he’s believed to have been between 23 and 30.
A Legend Lives On
A monument was erected in Westwood Cemetery in 1865 paying tribute to Shields Green, John Copeland and Lewis Sheridan Leary, who died during the raid. They are referred to as the three “citizens of Oberlin.” The monument was moved in 1971 to Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Vine Street in Oberlin.
Though little detail is known about Green’s full life and story, his legacy has been the subject of countless books, stage plays and the new biopic film, Emperor.
Kaleidoscope Entertainment presents Emperor on Digital from 1st March and DVD from 5th April 2021.