The new film is set up at Buffalo 8, which produced “Rodney King” with Luna Ray Media. Netflix acquired “Rodney King” last year. “Frederick Douglass Now” will mark the latest collaboration between Lee and Smith, who has played distinctive roles in 10 of Lee’s movies, stretching back to his second feature, “School Daze” (1988).
Douglass was one of the most extraordinary figures in U.S. history: a self-liberated slave, orator, publisher, and pioneering feminist who pleaded the case for abolition before Abraham Lincoln and made plans with the President for moving freed slaves to the North during the Civil War. Douglass lived from 1818 to 1895.
Smith’s one-man show begins with the actor rapping from his own text, mashing up references to slavery and contemporary life in the U.S. The performance then segues to Smith quoting extracts from Douglass’ essays and letters, and returns to Smith’s own writing for the finale, during which he sings: “If there is no progress, Frederick Douglass is still alive.”
The film adaptation will be accompanied by jazz artist Branford Marsalis and Smith’s longtime collaborator, Marc Anthony Thompson, the composer for “Rodney King” and “A Huey P. Newton Story.”
Smith began work on “Frederick Douglass Now” when he was an undergraduate at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He began performing the hour-plus monologue more than 20 years ago, and has been honing and updating it ever since.
The actor will interview Lee onstage Friday at Mexico’s Los Cabos Film Festival, where Lee will receive a tribute for his contribution to cinema history and talk about his career and approach to directing. Lee’s latest film, “BlacKkKlansman,” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
This year sees Douglass’ Bicentennary celebrations. “Rodney King” is currently streaming on Netflix.