Friday, February 5, 2016

Patrick H. Breen's "The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood"

Patrick H. Breen is Associate Professor of History at Providence College.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood: A New History of the Nat Turner Revolt:
Does every historian dreamcast his history? Probably not, but this question makes me feel less odd for having worked out an entire storyboard for filming The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood. Looking at the title, one may think that this is a natural for Quentin Tarantino, but The Land is completely different from Django Unchained or the similar movies that have come out of Hollywood over the last generation: 12 Years a Slave, Amistad, or even Glory. These movies all focus on dramatizing the horrors of slavery and celebrating the heroism of the underdog slave who stands up against slavery. In many ways, these films take the place of the old western, with clear good guys and bad guys. The only problem is that history is not like that. The revolt was a good deal more confusing and complex, even within the black community. What do we make of Boson, the convicted slave rebel who escaped prison before his scheduled hanging, only to be recaptured years later as he was—with a white collaborator—trying to sell himself off into slavery outside of Virginia as a way to cheat the hangman? Or the slave who promised to take a white woman’s child and raise it should she be killed? What about the fight between the slave Burwell, who was trying to deliver messages for the whites, and the free black Exum Artist, who tried to stop him? Likewise, the white community was divided as some raged and wanted revenge but others saw that such killings would cost the slaveholders too much. What happened in Southampton was much too complex for Tarantino, but I think that Spike Lee could do something extraordinary with it.

For the actors, The Land would need a large ensemble that could present the dilemma of resisting and upholding slavery in ways that no one has ever done on film. (On stage there have been efforts to present a more complex story about slave resistance, including John Guare’s A Free Man of Color; if offered I would welcome the Lincoln Center’s 2010-2011 entire cast into my film.) Given my druthers among film actors, I would love to see Michael B. Jordan head this cast. He could be a compelling Nat Turner, portraying a man who was able to launch the South’s most important and deadly slave insurrection. Since I’m casting, I’ll also include Laurence Fishburne, who has the range to do both passion and ambiguity, as Thomas Haithcock, Turner’s recruiter who ultimately escaped conviction for his role in the revolt. Quvenzhan√© Wallis could do a fabulous job as Beck, the young slave who testified that the plot was far bigger than the whites realized. Since I’m in charge, I’ll also enlist Leonardo DiCaprio play Thomas R. Gray, the unsuccessful lawyer who thought that taking down Turner’s confession might allow him a way out of the debt that had ruined his life.
Learn more about The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Land Shall Be Deluged in Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue