As critical a person as Frederick Douglass was, there sure seems to be a dearth of motion pictures about him. Professor Rayford Logan of Howard University, in the 1962 re-issue of Life and Times, wrote that: … A few comments will give depth and understanding to a thrilling narrative, which some courageous movie producer should dare to place on a screen.”
I heartily agree! Logan continued: “To be sure, it would be difficult to find an actor to play the role of Douglass.” Well, maybe in 1960, but not today. There should be plenty of established—or as-yet discovered—actors (black American, of course!) who could play the role of a tall, muscular, lithe and graceful man.
The following is a short list of places you can find Douglass on film (well, actors appearing as Douglass!) in big screen and TV movies:
Primary Douglass documentaries and movies
The Spirit of Frederick Douglass — This 2008 DVD depicts Michael E. Crutcher, Sr., performing as Douglass in the fashion of Hal Holbrook’s award-winning Mark Twain Tonight.
Frederick Douglass: When the Lion Wrote History — a 1994 PBS documentary narrated by Alfre Woodard.
Presenting Mr. Frederick Douglass — This 1994 TV film depicts the fine actor Fred Morsell performing as Douglass in a one man show, also similar to Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight. Sadly, it is unavailable.
A&E’s 1997 Biography of Frederick Douglass — I’m not totally a fan of this Biography effort, because it seems, well, too cursory. However, it is decent enough.
Frederick Douglass: The House on Cedar Hill — This is a rare 1953 documentary short written, directed and produced by Carlton Moss.
Frederick Douglass: An American Life (1984)
“Douglass” in a supporting role
Ken Burns’ The Civil War — Morgan Freeman provided the voice of Douglass for this terrific documentary.
Glory – Raymond St. Jacques portrayed Douglass in a bit role for 1989’s Glory, a somewhat fictionalized account of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. The movie, while being one of the greatest war films ever made—and one of the best, period—is something of a minor letdown because two of Douglass’ sons served in the 54th, but never appear in the movie. Still, there’s only so much that can be done in a two-hour film and what WAS done was excellent.
North and South — Robert Guillaume portrayed a rather short Douglass in the 1985 miniseries North and South. The character gives a speech on how slave families are broken up and sold to different plantations, “separated forever.” Guillaume’s Douglass, though, is a set-up for the speech given by the character Virgillia Hazard (Kirstie Ally), who gives a raging condemnation against the “human crop” of plantations.