TV Viewpoint: The Good Lord Bird and Duiseacht

An Anti-Slavery Campaigner Wreaks Havoc in Bleeding Kansas

WHILE the whole world has been taken hold of the virus-which-shall-not-be-named, a spin-off epidemic has taken hold of the US. It’s not an infection, but a movement that’s been a long time coming.

A spark in the middle of the pandemic put fuel to the fire and lit a flame under those who’ve been oppressed and abused, and now the rights of Black people in America, or rather the denial of those rights, are being put firmly at centre stage.

One thing that’s ridiculously frustrating about the struggle against racism is how long it’s actually been going on for. The Civil Rights Movement of the 60s was a pinnacle, but for many reasons beyond comprehension there is still a terrible struggle for equal rights.

Going even further back, even before the American Civil War, there were white allies standing with their Black compatriots. A new television show by the name of The Good Lord Bird began last Wednesday on Sky Atlantic, created by and starring Ethan Hawke.

The time is 1858, the place is “Bleeding Kansas”. One John Brown is a well-known anti-slavery activist, the thorn in the side of bigots who insist that owning people is their God given right. His business is freeing those slavey by any means possible, and wreaking vengeance on their oppressors.

The show is narrated by Henry “Henriette” Onion, a young Black boy who is mistaken by Brown as a girl in the chaos of freeing him, and just goes along with it, first out of fear, then more so out of keeping a quiet life. For, as well intentioned as John Brown is, he’s a zealot, a foamy-mouthed preacher whose calling leads to vigilantism.

Ethan Hawke and Joshua Caleb Johnson in The Good Lord Bird

The Good Lord Bird is an unorthodox creation. While its subject matter is on the hefty side, it’s more Tarantino than serious Oscar contender, with a dash of Coen Brothers thrown in for good measure. Even with those comparisons, it’s really its own unique entity, a comedy-drama-action show, heavy on violence but also with its fair share of humour bordering on slapstick.

Ethan Hawke is great as the almost Batman-esque Brown, a character based on a real person, who was a contemporary and friend of Frederick Douglas. He even speaks in the deep, gravelly tones of the Caped Crusader while dealing out justice to a slave owner, before unceremoniously lopping his head off.

I did wonder at first if it was entirely wise to based an anti-slavery programme on a white campaigner, but the white-saviour narrative is explained away at the beginning, and Black characters aren’t side-lined.

The Good Lord Bird is an actual bird that Brown’s gang of fellow abolitionists hold in high regard as being sent from God to bring good luck; naming the show after this peripheral entity is a clue as to how off-kilter it is. It’s a definite curiosity, but one that seems to know what it’s doing and where it’s going. Episodes continue on Sky Atlantic, tonight (Wednesday) at 9pm.

IT’S been growing increasingly difficult to put ourselves in other people’s shoes lately, as our world has closed in somewhat, thanks to the county-wide and 5-kilometre restrictions. Sure, we’ve seen family and friends on video calls, and heard them over the phone, but what about those who we don’t know, going through the same tough times as we are?

Dúiseacht, or Awakening, in English, began on TG4 last Thursday. The first episode of the five-part series is entitled Dóchas (Hope), a fitting title for where we begin; May 2020. We’re introduced to a variety of business people from the Gaeltacht area of An Daingean (Dingle), Co. Kerry, who are adapting to life under lockdown and preparing for when the time comes to exit from it.

Musicians Billy Mac Fhloinn and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and their daughters, in Duiseacht

We meet builders and publicans, musicians and restaurant owners, all with the same thing in common; their lives and livelihoods have been upended in similar ways. The picturesque town streets are practically empty, the seaside is bare, their children and getting bored of doing the same thing day in, day out.

Narrated by Micheal Ó Muircheartaigh, the series charts the progress of lockdown until October of this year. It’s an important insight into the lives of others, and an interesting look-back with the benefit of hindsight over the last few months.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 25 11 20

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