There is a hot new Black History film director in town, and he is a 17-year-old white kid named Luke Jaden.
Jaden's documentary, MADMAN or Martyr, centers on the efforts of John Brown, a white abolitionist who is rumored to have provoked the Civil War, according to the film.
"Brown was probably the greatest abolitionists of our time," Jaden says, arguing that his efforts were even greater than some of the more popular abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass and George DeBaptist. "He was inspired by the killing of Elijah Parish Lovejoy and then brave enough to try and completely abolish this horrific movement (in a battle), which led to Abraham Lincoln bringing the Emancipation Proclamation to the table."
Jaden adds, "So, Brown should be looked up to in our society today because he was the main reason slavery ended and many people don't know that."
The film follows Brown's efforts to rally abolitionists together for a battle against pro-slavery supporters, dissatisfied with the perceived "passive" efforts of the northern abolitionists. Earning the well-deserved moniker "madman," Brown led a group of about 20 men on a raid of West Virginia's Harper's Ferry. He was captured and killed by the U.S. government.
In the film, dialogue between the abolitionists is reimagined with voice actors using historic portraits as visuals, while Civil War and history experts from across the country weigh in own Brown's legacy as a madman, from interviews compiled by Jaden.
"I could not imagine what it would've been like to go through the brutality and bloodshed they experienced being controlled and manipulated by someone else," says Jaden about writing the script.
The movie's initial premiere at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in January was well received with a standing ovation. Jaden, a Detroit area high school student, says the decision to make a documentary came after a challenge from his history teacher to create something to honor Black History Month. In the process, Jaden says learned more about Black history and himself.
"(The film) helped me with other things in my life. So much about the African-American community I would have never known if I did not do this film," he says. As for his understanding of whether Brown was a madman or martyr:
"I would say
martyr. He sacrificed his life for what he believed and died for the cause and that was to abolish slavery. He was one of America's greatest unsung heroes," says Jaden. "So, definitely a martyr."
MADMAN or Martyr shows at Cinema Detroit at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, 2014, followed by a Q & A with Jaden. Tickets are $5.