Nightjohn

Nightjohn

5.0 1
Director: Charles Burnett

Cast: Carl Lumbly, Beau Bridges, Allison Jones

     
 

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Sarny (Allison Jones) is born into slavery and separated from her mother at an early age. She's raised by Dealey (Lorraine Toussaint), who promises early on that "nuthin' too bad" will happen to her young charge. Clel Waller (Beau Bridges), who owns the plantation, is a cruel man, who sees the slaves only in terms of their monetary value. Life on the plantation

Overview

Sarny (Allison Jones) is born into slavery and separated from her mother at an early age. She's raised by Dealey (Lorraine Toussaint), who promises early on that "nuthin' too bad" will happen to her young charge. Clel Waller (Beau Bridges), who owns the plantation, is a cruel man, who sees the slaves only in terms of their monetary value. Life on the plantation changes when Clel buys Nightjohn (Carl Lumbly), a hulk of a man, with scars across his back from the whip. Branded as a troublemaker, Nightjohn has trouble earning the trust of the other slaves. But one night when their work is done, he offers to make a trade with Sarny to get some tobacco. In exchange, he begins to teach her the alphabet. Sarny is fascinated and takes to learning with passion, but when the other slaves find out, they are afraid. Old Man (Bill Cobbs) shows Nightjohn how he's been punished for his own literacy; his thumb and forefinger have been chopped off. But Nightjohn explains that he gave up a chance to escape to the North so that he could teach. "Words are freedom, Old Man," he explains. "That's all slavery is: words." Sarny reads the love letters that she delivers from Clel's wife (Kathleen York) to an educated doctor who lives nearby, and she reads Clel's ledger, in which he lists the monetary value of all the slaves. She soon learns that knowledge, for all its dangers, brings a certain power. Nightjohn was directed by venerated independent filmmaker Charles Burnett (To Sleep With Anger) for the Disney Channel. It's based on the young adult novel by Gary Paulsen.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Josh Ralske
Nightjohn, originally produced for the Disney Channel, marks venerated independent filmmaker Charles Burnett's first made-for-TV feature, and was the first feature of his remarkable career that he did not have a hand in writing. Based on a young-adult novel, the film is a slave narrative that has many familiar elements (recognizable from other productions that deal with slavery, including Roots and Glory) and, ostensibly, in its simple, straightforward storytelling, little to connect it to the narrative complexity of the filmmaker's other works, such as To Sleep With Anger and Killer of Sheep. This only adds to the astonishing achievement of the film, which transcends its seeming limitations to achieve remarkable clarity of vision and tremendous emotional power. For all the slave stories that have been told before, Nightjohn is exemplary in its depiction of a sense of community among slaves, and in the palpable force with which it puts across its timeless theme involving the life-or-death importance of literacy. Nightjohn depicts plantation life with a moral ambiguity rare among such tales, and this paradoxically adds to the film's power. While the slave owner played by Beau Bridges is clearly villainous in his treatment of the slaves, portraying him as a fully-fleshed human being and not simply a monster allows for a deeper understanding of history, and thus to a more comprehensive vision of how the tale relates to our own times. While the acting is uneven and the script occasionally far-fetched, Burnett's essential intelligence and humaneness as a filmmaker shine through.

Product Details

Release Date:
01/27/1998
UPC:
0707729700630
Original Release:
1996
Rating:
NR
Source:
HALLMARK

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Nightjohn 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TO ALL PEOPLE WHO HAVEN'T SEEN NIGHT JOHN ITS A GOOD MOVIE. I HAVE WATCHED IT ATLEAST 3 TIMES AND I FELL IN LOVE OTS REALLY GOOD. I THINK ALL KIDS SHOULD SEE THIS MOVIE OR READ THE BOOK. THEY SHOULD SEE WHAT THIS LIITTLE GIRL HAD TO DO TO HELP HER PEOPLE.