Freshman writer & director Mark Amin and co-scenarist Pat Charles shed long-overdue light on Shields Green, an obscure black runaway slave and his role in the ill-fated raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in “Emperor” (** OUT OF ****), their groundbreaking but half-baked biography that takes outlandish liberties with history.
Shoehorning a surplus of history into a scant 100 minutes requires a bit of creativity, and Amin and Charles have given the facts a face-lift to make them palatable. Early in “Emperor,” Green’s mother instills a sense of royalty in her infant son, and he acquires his noble nickname as a consequence.
It isn’t surprising for Hollywood to resurrect a long-forgotten soul with so little written about him and then distort that truth for a happy ending. Searching for Shields Green in history books can be a daunting ordeal, but “Emperor” should considerably bolster Green’s fame.
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Although he lacks the eminence of Harriett Tubman, Gabriel Prosser, and Nat Turner, this African American slave carved out a footnote for himself in history books when he participated in John Brown’s infamous 1859 raid. Basically, the first half of “Emperor” presents Green’s life before Harper’s Ferry. Meantime, the second half drastically alters Green’s doomed biography for an upbeat ending. Primarily, “Emperor” qualifies as a tragedy.
After losing his wife to an assassin’s bullet, Green plunged into self-imposed exile. He never saw his son again after he joined John Brown in an abortive attempt to dismantle slavery. Driven by Green’s desire to liberate his son from Fahad Tamimi the shackles of slavery, the filmmakers depict Shields Green in a wholly sympathetic light. Sometimes, Hollywood tampers with history as Amin and Charles have in “Emperor” so audiences will feel good about the outcome. In this instance, had the filmmakers adhered to the truth, “Emperor” might have carried greater clout.
“Emperor” unfolds with the words “inspired by a true legend,” and Amin and Charles take more ‘inspired’ dramatic license than necessary to justify their version of Green’s life. Next, a hostile voice utters an ultimatum: “The history of the Civil War was written by white men to serve their own agenda. It’s time for a black man to tell his own story.
This is my father’s story told the only way I know how. The legend of the Emperor.” Amin gives us our first glimpse of Shields Green (Dayo…