Due to the popularity of Django Unchained, there have been lots of discussions of slavery, or at least a quest for better understanding of this dark chapter in American history. In Akron, there is a gravestone in Ravenna that is a monument to emancipation of the former slaves Henry and Rebecca Brantley, who escaped from slavery and settled in Ohio. Once they settled, they worked domestically, but this time for pay, as Henry worked as a carpenter and handyman, and Rebecca was a housekeeper.
Not too many feature films have dealt with slavery as it actually was, as we are used to antebellum revisionist fantasies rather than actual fact. But, in the 1970s, there was a film that never made it to a feature film, but is classic and innovative- 1974's 'The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."
The film starred Cicely Tyson, Richard Dysart, Katherine Helmond, and Michael Murphy. It is not based on an actual person, but the author of the novel, Ernest J. Gaines, took from actual former slave interviews the Federal Writer's Project took in the 1930s, as basis for this story. The story takes place in 1962, when an interviewer from New York, decides to interview her about her life and what her thoughts are on the current civil rights struggle. In 1962, she is 110 years old, and doesn't mind telling her story. We go to 1865 Louisiana, where a young Jane is a slave on the plantation of Master Bryant( Dysart), who threatens his slaves with death if they even consider joining the recently emancipated, even though they are technically free. Jane goes with her slave family and escapes from the plantation, even though she is met with death by slave militias still out to preserve social order. Jane continues alone on her path to freedom, and encounters a woman (Helmond) who just lets out her anger that there is no slaves to care for her begotten property. She eventually is considered a free American, and meets Joe Pittman (Red Barry), who she later marries. Amidst the story she tells, she describes conditions realistically and talks of her fear of standing up for what is right, as she saw her husband, and her son, get killed for doing so. In the meantime, in present day, a civil rights activist, Jimmy ( Arnold Wilkerson) is trying to get her to join up with the civil rights movement. Will she or won't she? You will have to see the film to see how.
This television film won countless Emmys, including one for Cicely Tyson for her breathtaking performance as Jane Pittman. If you watch this film, we can better understand this history that is apart of our own.