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S01.E03: Mister Fred

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Airdate 2020.10.18


John Brown travels north with Onion, taking refuge at the home of Frederick Douglass and his two wives. When Brown and Douglass clash over methodology, Onion discovers just how complex the fight for justice and human equality really is.


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Onion and "Mister Fred" making successively more drunken toasts to all the poor enslaved animals down to the goats was a hoot. Never really imagined seeing Frederick Douglass starring in a sex farce, even after reading the book, but here we are. It's interesting to put this portrayal up along side Daveed Diggs' dickish performance of Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton.

You can quibble from a historical propaganda perspective just how crazy John Brown really was, but the point the dinner table argument was making still resonates in modern political discussion about the "safety" of respectability politics vs. burning it all down. For all his affectation, Douglass was demonstrating he knew full well how much higher the stakes would be for a free man of color in his position or black people in general.


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4 hours ago, nodorothyparker said:

Never really imagined seeing Frederick Douglass starring in a sex farce, even after reading the book, but here we are.

I didn't read the book, so this was definitely one of the things I didn't quite know how to take. It's not that I find comedy unusual in the midst of drama, but (what felt like fairly misogynistic) farce, that's not historically supported, in the middle of a historical drama felt...weird. 

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Neither book nor show even pretends to be a straight historical drama. James McBride, the author, by his own admission wasn't trying to write Serious History and so picked and chose the narratives he wanted for all of the historical characters. There's argument to be made, for example, that this portrayal of John Brown as truly mad as a hatter was something of an invention of pro-slavery factions after Harpers Ferry to discredit him and everyone associated with him and that the real Brown was just extremely passionate to the point of zealotry that the time for talking and compromising about slavery was over. Ottilie Assing was also a real person who did live with the Douglasses off and on while translating his writings for European audiences, and there were rumors about her and Douglass for years. 

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