Monday, October 26, 2015

Shane White's "Prince of Darkness"

Shane White is the Challis Professor of History and an Australian Professorial Fellow in the History Department at the University of Sydney specializing in African-American history. He has authored or co-authored several books, including Playing the Numbers, and collaborated in the construction of the website Digital Harlem.

Here White dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire:
I would hardly be the first historian to think that my just published book, to which I have devoted several years’ work, should have a larger audience and be made into a Broadway musical or a film. Or both.

Although Prince of Darkness is about a Wall Street broker named Jeremiah Hamilton, his was a life of cinematic vividness. There were feats of derring-do, including a foiled foray running counterfeit coin into Port-au-Prince harbor, vigorous disputes about business ethics (or Hamilton’s lack of them) including one spectacular incident in which a slanging match in a New York courtroom broke out into a brawl on the steps of the Tombs building, and the violent eruption into the New York Draft Riots, arguably the worst week in the city’s history, where an Irish mob stormed into Hamilton’s house with the intention of lynching him on the lamppost outside. What is most appealing about him, though, is his large style. He may have been a pioneer but he was anything but polite and deferential. Hamilton never turned away or turned the other cheek.

Making a film about African Americans always seems to depend on signing up a big well-known bankable star. And depending on what part of the story the film concentrates, and thus how old he is (from say 20 to 67 when he dies), any of the usual suspects would surely do a great job—Denzel Washington, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Will Smith etc. Hamilton’s white wife, Eliza, was 14 to his 28 or 29 when he married her—so for once Hollywood’s insistence on casting the female lead decades younger than the male lead would be accurate enough. Very little is known of Eliza Jane Hamilton, but she must have been a formidable person to cope with all that New York threw at her throughout her life.

As to director. Scorsese always manages to convey a New York feel to his pictures—you may (and I would) argue with some of the history of Gangs of New York but some of his shots of New York were heartbreakingly beautiful. Spielberg has a feel for history and an interest in the African American past in say Amistad or Lincoln. To be honest, though, one of my favorite directors is Ridley Scott. The color and look of many of his films is achingly beautiful as well.

I have no doubt that Prince of Darkness could be made into a great film. It is a wonderful and surprising story that runs against the grain of the history Americans have been taught for so long.
Learn more about Prince of Darkness at the St. Martin's Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue