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The Good Lord Bird (miniseries)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Good Lord Bird
The Good Lord Bird Miniseries Poster.jpg
Official poster
Created by
Based onThe Good Lord Bird
by James McBride
Opening theme"Come on Children, Let's Sing" by Mahalia Jackson[3]
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of episodes7 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Jason Blum
  • Ethan Hawke
  • Mark Richard
  • Padraic McKinley
  • Albert Hughes
  • Jeremy Gold
  • Marci Wiseman
  • James McBride[4]
  • Brian Taylor
  • Ryan Hawke
  • David Schiff
  • Marshall Persinger
Production locationsRichmond, Virginia
Running time46–57 minutes
Production companies
DistributorShowtime Networks
Original networkShowtime
Original releaseOctober 4 (2020-10-04) –
November 15, 2020 (2020-11-15)
External links

The Good Lord Bird is a 2020 American historical drama miniseries, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by James McBride. Focusing on John Brown's attack on American slavery, the series was created and executive produced by Ethan Hawke and Mark Richard. Produced by Jason Blum, through Blumhouse Television, it premiered on October 4, 2020 on Showtime.[5]


The series is told from the point of view of Henry Shackleford (Joshua Caleb Johnson), a fictional enslaved boy, who is part of John Brown's (Ethan Hawke) motley crew of abolitionist soldiers during the time of Bleeding Kansas, eventually participating in the famous 1859 raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (since 1863, West Virginia). Brown's raid failed to initiate a slave revolt as he intended, but it was one of the events that started the American Civil War.[6]

It is not just the story of Brown but that of those that accompanied him. According to Hawke, "If you really study this character, he asks a lot of you philosophically. He challenges why so many of us accept the unacceptable". Author James McBride was involved in the production and according to him, "John Brown is a real hero to me and to many Black people who are no longer alive. John Brown gave his life and two of his sons' lives to the cause of freedom for Black people, and he started the Civil War. They buried this man's story for a long time....".[7]






No.Title [10]Directed byWritten by [11]Original air date [10]U.S. viewers
1"Meet the Lord"Albert HughesMark Richard & Ethan HawkeOctober 4, 2020 (2020-10-04)0.251[12]
John Brown and his "Pottawatomie Rifles", including three of his sons, in territorial Kansas meet a young runaway slave. The slave, using the nickname Onion, joins John's group; John believes Onion is a girl and gives her a new store-bought dress, intended for one of his daughters. Throughout the series whites believe Onion is a girl, but the Blacks see that he's a boy. Brown's goal is to free all the slaves, which involves killing slavers, in a massacre. John's son Frederick ends up being killed, while another son abandons the group, tired of fighting.
2"A Wicked Plot"Kevin HooksErika L. Johnson & Mark RichardOctober 11, 2020 (2020-10-11)0.254[14]
Onion and Bob get separated from the Brown party. Because Onion's skin is so light, he pretends to be white, and that Bob is his slave. Hoping to reach the abolitionist town of Tabor, Iowa, where John Brown and his sons were headed, they are taken, not happily, across the Missouri River to the fictional slave-trading town of Pikesville, Missouri; Bob is put to work in a sawmill, and Onion cleans rooms in the Pikesville Hotel. Onion is central to a planned insurrection of slaves to enable them to escape. The plan is discovered, and 9 slaves about to be hanged are rescued by John Brown and his troop, who arrive with guns and a cannon.[13]
3"Mister Fred"Darnell MartinErika L. Johnson & Jeff AugustinOctober 18, 2020 (2020-10-18)0.182[15]
Brown, accompanied by Onion, travels by train to Rochester, New York, to talk with Frederick Douglass. Douglass delivers his famous July 4th speech. Douglass tells Brown that he cannot help him by organizing support among the Blacks, as Brown wanted. Douglass is a somewhat pompous lecher, though smart and educated; he has two wives, one black and one white. He attempts to seduce Onion. Onion and John meet Emperor, a Black escaped slave who is living with Douglass.
4"Smells Like Bear"Kevin HooksMark Richard & Kristen SaBerreOctober 25, 2020 (2020-10-25)0.235[16]
Brown is being sought by federal agents; he tells Onion to spot them from the smell of the bear grease in their hair. Brown gives a fiery talk, in the style of a sermon, in response to an unexpected invitation. Violence, he preaches, is unavoidable. He meets Hugh Forbes, a soldier who fought with Garibaldi, and gives him all his cash, more than Forbes wants, to hire him to train his men in warfare; Forbes suddenly leaves town and Brown realizes he has been robbed. They will go to Canada, a civilized place. Onion is disgusted with Brown because he gave away all his money and now they have to walk to Canada, and also because he feels exploited, the token slave Brown trots out before audiences. His relationship with Brown is that of a slave to his master, he says, and he pointedly reminds Brown that he had been a slave and experienced slave life, which Brown has not, and he lived better as a slave than he has with Brown. Brown gives Onion his grandmother's Bible in atonement. Although Onion is free in Canada, he chooses to remain with Brown. Brown speaks in a church in Chatham, Ontario, the terminus of the Underground Railroad, proclaiming again the need for violence to end slavery. He speaks of the guilt of the North. He is not seeking money; he needs men. The time for words is over. He refuses to divulge his plan, which God has put in his heart. Harriet Tubman, called "General", comes forward and tells the audience to trust Brown. They start volunteering. She warns Brown that once he has set a date, he shouldn't change it. John tells his new recruits of his plan to attack Harpers Ferry, not just to free the slaves, but to start a revolution, a civil war.
5"Hiving the Bees"Haifaa al-MansourMark Richard & Lauren SignorinoNovember 1, 2020 (2020-11-01)0.206[17]
Douglass intends to be the most photographed American, but he does not smile, to put the lie to the stereotype of the "Happy Negro". Onion and Cook arrive in Maryland and get their first sight of Harper's Ferry, Brown's destination. Cook rents the Kennedy farmhouse. Onion is told he could find other Blacks at Colonel Louis Washington's plantation, but Blacks there throw him off the property. Maryland is a slave state and Blacks think Brown will just get them in trouble. Onion talks to "the railroad man", Heyward Shepherd. The rest of Brown's army arrives. The men have to stay upstairs to avoid being seen; a neighbor, Mrs. Hoffmaster, calls three times and gets increasingly suspicious. Douglass, accompanied by Emperor, comes to Maryland to meet with Brown. Douglass says Brown's planned raid is suicidal, and he will not be a part of it. Brown is very disappointed. Emperor, however, says he will go with Brown, so Douglass returns to Rochester alone. Onion calls Douglass "a speechifying parlor-man", incapable of fighting. Onion meets Annie Brown and Oliver Brown's wife, who are doing cooking and laundry. He becomes enamored of Annie, and she of him. As the two women are being sent away before the shooting starts, Onion reveals to Annie that he is male, that he is in love with her, and that he will never see her again. He kisses her, and departs.
6"Jesus Is Walkin'"Kate WoodsMark Richard & Erika L. JohnsonNovember 8, 2020 (2020-11-08)0.190[18]
"Jesus is Walkin'" is the passphrase that the railroad man gives to Onion, for use when the men reach Harpers Ferry, but Onion forgets to tell them until it's too late. Jason Brown shoots the railroad man after he is confronted for not knowing the phrase. John Brown's first casualty is Black. Now the railroad man can never rally the local Blacks, as he was supposed to do. Brown's ragtag army is gathered together, cleaning their guns and prepping them for the night's assault on Harper's Ferry. His sons begin to talk about how last year their father gave them 17 slaves for Christmas. Every Black man in the room is in disbelief until Jason explains that they were white slaves, men who Brown intimidated into submission. Owen, who has stayed behind to rally the supposed crew of hiving bees, is just as demoralized. Brown's own son has anticipated his death. Brown is the only member of the posse who believes in the hiving, so sure that he has the Lord's backing that he neglects the need for a human plan. The many negroes that are to help him never appear. Brown and his men take the Armory and station themselves inside the Armory's fire engine house, taking 50 hostages with them. He trades a hostage for breakfast for all. His men repeatedly tell him they should leave while they still can, but Brown is sure negroes will appear. Onion disobeys Brown's order to leave and save himself; he and two others go back to Col. Washington's and take him hostage and set his slaves free. Washington, who tells us pompously that he is George Washington's grandnephew, is a coward. Jim, Washington's coachman, who had kicked Onion off the plantation, tells Col. Washington he has had too many years of him; Washington had sold his mother away. They head back to Harpers Ferry in Washington's coach. The raiders that were supposed to hold the bridge are all dead. The survivors cannot get away. The townspeople realize there's been a murder, an insurrection, and call out the alarm. A stopped train departs and can give an alarm in the next town. Bullets are exchanged; the mayor of Harpers Ferry is killed, and Oliver Brown, shot, dies in his father's arms. Federal troops arrive.
7"Last Words"Michael NankinMark Richard & Ethan HawkeNovember 15, 2020 (2020-11-15)0.317[19]
Narration from Douglass is heard explaining that the Harpers Ferry raid helped ignite the Civil War. Clarence brings Onion to Brown's prison cell, who notes that Brown had made more of an impact with his words, rather than with blunt violence. Brown's life is shown as a media event. Onion overhears a literal barbershop conversation about whether or not Brown was foolish, comparing him to Jesus. Onion notes the acceleration of public support for abolition, culminating in the Civil War. On the eve of his public hanging, Brown starts to believe that he will be more of an asset to the cause by dying than he ever was by living.


Music in the miniseries is composed of Black musical genres: gospel, blues, and spirituals. Most is performed by Black artists or groups, with the theme song "Come On Children, Let's Sing", a gospel song, sung by Mahalia Jackson. Songs featured in the series include:

  • Episode 1
  1. The Zion Travelers, "Am I a Soldier of the Lord?"
  2. Elmore James, "Shake Your Money Maker"
  3. The Zion Travelers, "The Blood"
  4. Mahalia Jackson, "I'm On My Way to Canaan"
  • Episode 2
  1. Nina Simone, "I Shall Be Released"
  2. Shuggie Otis, "Sweet Thang"
  • Episode 3
  1. Brother Joe May and the Bye & Bye, "Afterwhile"
  2. Shuggie Otis, "Sweet Thang"
  3. The Redemption Harmonizers, "Amazing Grace"
  • Epsode 4
  1. Elvis Presley, "Where Could I Go but to the Lord"
  2. Taj Mahal, "She Caught the Katy and Left Me the Mule to Ride"
  • Episode 5
  1. The Ragged Jubilee, "In the Valley II"
  2. Joe and Eddie and the Les Braxter Chorus, "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore"
  • Episode 6
  1. Mahalia Jackson, "Trouble of the World"
  • Episode 7
  1. Spirit of Memphis Quartet, "Walking with Jesus"
  2. Cast, "Wayfaring Stranger"



Ethan Hawke and Jason Blum adapted the 2013 novel, The Good Lord Bird, for a limited series that premiered on October 4, 2020 on Showtime.[20] The series was created and executive produced by Hawke and Mark Richard. Jason Blum, via Blumhouse Television, served as a production partner on the miniseries.[21][22] Albert Hughes, Kevin Hooks, Darnell Martin, and Haifaa al-Mansour each directed an episode.[23]


In August 2019, Daveed Diggs and Wyatt Russell signed on to portray Frederick Douglass and First Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart, respectively.[24][25][26] In July 2019, Joshua Caleb Johnson and Rafael Casal joined the cast as Henry "Onion" Shackleford and John Cook, respectively.[27]


Principal photography for the series began in July 2019, in Powhatan, Virginia, near Richmond.[28][29]


Critical response

For the series, review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 98% based on 52 reviews, with an average rating of 8.52/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Ethan Hawke dazzles in The Good Lord Bird, an epically irreverent adaptation that does right by its source material's good word."[30] On Metacritic, the series has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100 based on reviews from 25 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."[31]

In response to John Lahr's profile of Ethan Hawke,[32] The New Yorker published a letter to the editor,[33] written by Marty Brown, a descendant of John Brown. In the letter, Marty Brown welcomes the effort to bring John Brown's story to a wider audience but notes that his characterization in the series does not reflect the work of Brown's historians and biographers.[34]


Year Award Category Nominees Result Ref.
2021 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie Daveed Diggs Nominated [35]
Joshua Caleb Johnson Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor – Limited Series or Television Film Ethan Hawke Nominated [36]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series Erika L. Johnson & Mark Richard (for "A Wicked Plot") Nominated [37]
Peabody Awards Entertainment honorees Showtime Presents Blumhouse Television, Mark 924 Entertainment, Under the Influence Productions Won [38]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Main Title Design Efrain Montanez, Eduardo Guisandes, and Abigail Fairfax Won [39]
Satellite Awards Best Miniseries & Limited Series The Good Lord Bird Won [40]
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Film Ethan Hawke Won
Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film Joshua Caleb Johnson Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Limited Series Ethan Hawke Nominated [41]
Television Critics Association Awards Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials The Good Lord Bird Nominated [42]
Individual Achievement in Drama Ethan Hawke Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Long Form – Adapted Jeff Augustin, Ethan Hawke, Erika L. Johnson, Mark Richard, Kristen SaBerre, and Lauren Signorino; Based on the novel by James McBride Nominated [43]


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  2. ^ Rivera, Joshua (October 9, 2020). "'The Good Lord Bird' is a timely reminder that Americans aren't usually fans of progress". The Verge. Archived from the original on November 1, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
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  7. ^ "'Good Lord Bird' recognizes history's unnamed 'others'". St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri). October 2, 2020. p. G20 – via
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  10. ^ a b "The Good Lord Bird – Listings". The Futon Critic. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
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  13. ^ Kelly, Hillary (October 11, 2020). "The Good Lord Bird Recap: Divided in Half". Archived from the original on November 18, 2020. Retrieved April 3, 2021.
  14. ^ Metcalf, Mitch (October 13, 2020). "Updated: ShowBuzzDaily's Top 150 Sunday Cable Originals & Network Finals: 10.11.2020". Showbuzz Daily. Archived from the original on November 13, 2020. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
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  19. ^ Metcalf, Mitch (November 17, 2020). "Updated: ShowBuzzDaily's Top 150 Sunday Cable Originals & Network Finals: 11.15.2020". Showbuzz Daily. Archived from the original on November 17, 2020. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  20. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (September 25, 2020). "The Gospel According to Ethan Hawke". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 14, 2020. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  21. ^ Lang, Brent (June 11, 2018). "Ethan Hawke, Jason Blum Adapting 'The Good Lord Bird' for TV". Variety. Archived from the original on June 13, 2018. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
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  23. ^ Petski, Denise (August 2, 2019). "Daveed Diggs & Wyatt Russell Join 'The Good Lord Bird' For Showtime - TCA". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on December 5, 2019. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
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Further reading

External links

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