Ethan Hawke: We don’t want to talk about the pre-Civil War history of America

54th Annual ACM Awards Arrivals

It’s widely known that I have a shameful crush on Diplo, who is pretty gross and yet so, so sexy to me. I feel similarly about Ethan Hawke, honestly. I know he’s been a douchebag to some of the women in his life and he’s not a traditional beefcake or anything. But I would. Hard. I find him so attractive. Ethan is currently promoting his new Showtime limited series The Good Lord Bird, based on the James McBride novel of the same name. The series and novel is the story of the famous abolitionist John Brown, told through the perspective of an enslaved child. John Brown’s life and story has barely been dramatized (although Quentin Tarantino once said John Brown’s life was the only bio-pic he would ever consider doing). John Brown was a violent abolitionist, and he led the “slave rebellion” raid on Harpers Ferry, and he was executed for treason (before the Civil War). Ethan Hawke as John Brown? I don’t hate it. Ethan chatted about the role and life in general with Emmy Magazine:

Working nonstop after his 30s: “I used my 20s and 30s to learn a lot about acting. Then I turned 40, and I started working my ass off,” he says. Although Hawke has extensive film credits, his TV appearances can be counted on one hand.

How the project came to him: James McBride’s 2013 novel The Good Lord Bird tells the reimagined story of real-life white abolitionist John Brown from the point of view of Onion, a 14-year-old slave boy—played by Joshua Caleb Johnson—who is passing as a girl. A camera operator on the 2016 film The Magnificent Seven introduced Hawke to the book, noting that he looked like Brown. Asked to describe the character and the tone of the book, Hawke says, “Imagine if you took Huckleberry Finn and Huck is now a cross-dressing African-American kid, and crazy Jim is now crazy John Brown.”

The project fell into place: “Not to be corny, but this job I kind of felt like I’d been preparing for my whole life. It’s a strange thing with the business—sometimes things fall into place, and sometimes they just don’t. This thing just fell into place.”

Trying to find the character: “A guy who rides down to Kansas and starts a fight with anybody who wants to own a slave … what does a guy like that speak like?” He credits his vocal inspiration to his grandfather, Howard L. Green, who “… had this way of talking to everyone. He was a big Christian in his own way; but he made up his own version of Christianity to work for him, just like John Brown.”

The history of slavery & America: “We don’t want to talk about this period in U.S. history because it’s so hurtful, so upsetting. We don’t want to think about it, look hard at it. [The Good Lord Bird] deals with such an important subject, such a serious American conversation, but with so much love and wit. This series gives voice to something we’re all struggling with—the inequality in our country. It is coming at a moment when it’s what people want to be talking about.”

[From Emmy Magazine]

I actually wish that more people would take the time to study more about this period of American history. Of course, everything gets whitewashed and we’re supposed to believe that the Civil War solved everything and blah blah blah. But the pre-Civil War/Bleeding Kansas period of America history is fascinating, infuriating and worthy of study.

Here’s the trailer – I hope Ethan doesn’t scream like that throughout the entire series. It is interesting to put John Brown in a historical context, as a contemporary of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Robert E. Lee, US Grant.

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Cover courtesy of Emmy Magazine, additional photos courtesy of WENN.

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29 Responses to “Ethan Hawke: We don’t want to talk about the pre-Civil War history of America”

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  1. Sierra says:

    Other than this, America really needs to talk about the true history of America aka Native Americans.

    I never understood how Americans are okay with celebrating Thanksgiving. A terrible history of genocide and yet, it is still largely ignored by Americans.

    • Ragna says:

      That’s one American custom that I find really off-putting as well. It’s like throwing a feast on November 26 here (that’s the day for the largest deportation of Jews here where I live), it’s disgusting.

      There’s plenty of non-genocidal and blood related days in history to choose from. Why does it have to be one that contribute to the genocide of a people?

    • BeanieBean says:

      And I couldn’t help but notice the Native American music (drumming & singing) in that trailer. It got me to wondering, with they incorporate their story into this movie or are they just using their music?

  2. Edna says:

    Yeah..until America acknowledges and comes to terms with its history, there will never be a “perfect union.” A country built on the genocide of its indigenous people and the barbaric forced enslavement of abducted people will never heal and move forward until it learns and accepts the truth.

  3. Aang says:

    People don’t want to talk about post civil war history either. At least not about what really happened.

  4. duchess of hazard says:

    Hmmm. The trailer has my attention, tbh. I’ll give it a gander.

    As for Hawke’s comments; it’s nice that a white guy is saying it. Like, it’s shameful that it’s just now that there are discussions around this via entertainment (Lindenhof’s Watchmen and Green’s Lovecraft Country) instead of school books, but we take what we can get.

  5. Edna says:

    “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.”
    —James Baldwin

  6. Faye says:

    I wish they did a serious bio pic on John Brown, I don’t like that he’s being played as crazy. Harriet Tubman was supposed to be at Harpers Ferry too with John Brown, but she fell ill beforehand,

    He was right about the only way to end slavery was through violence. Civil War anyone.

    • BeanieBean says:

      And Hawke’s description of the movie–his Huck Finn & Jim analogy–was twisted to fit that ‘crazy John Brown’ idea, because Jim wasn’t crazy in Huck Finn, not at all. That seems to be the conceit they want to go with, ‘crazy’. Storytelling license, I guess?

  7. Rapunzel says:

    The US Civil War, when broken down, was a group of stupid people deciding it was better to kill their own brothers than stop owning black folks. All because they ridiculously built their economy on slave labor, and were too dumb to figure out how to keep their economy afloat without that slave labor. They were idiots, and Confederate history is nothing to celebrate. Why keep alive the fact your ancestors were morons?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Met Ethan Hawke in person. Very rude. I’ve never been able to see anything he is in.

    • SomeChick says:

      Do tell!

    • Scotchy says:

      That’s also my experience with him as well. He used to live across from me back in the late 90′s and we would run into each other in elevators, hallways etc and he was a nasty nasty man. Just rude and he smelled. I do hope he has grown out of that stage and I kinda assume he did, but man he sucked back then.

  9. Enis says:

    I read some early reviews on this and I don’t know if I will watch this because it is so brutal to black folks and seems to employ the white savior trope.

    • duchess of hazard says:

      How disappointing to hear @Enis.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I figured it might be, if only because they chose to make a movie about John Brown. That’s one character and event–the raid on Harper’s Ferry–that you learn in school. It’s a very limited history Americans are taught & there seems to be an inability/lack of will to go into any kind of depth.

    • Marigold says:

      This concerns me as well, Enis. The fact is that John Brown never acted alone, and there were black Americans fighting both with him and against him the entire time. In addition, there were European revolutionaries who fought both with and against him the entire time. The John Brown/Bleeding Kansas phenomenon is such a deep and intriguing study of humanity. I worry that the film will make it an “angry white man with a claymore did heroic things for abolition.” It’s a sad commentary on the average person’s grasp of what was going on in the 1850′s and 60′s.

  10. Sayrah says:

    I think Daveed Diggs is in this too so that’s reason enough to see it for me. I’ve seen Hamilton about 50 times since it was released on Disney plus.

  11. Lizzie Bathory says:

    Forgive me for a totally shallow comment, but I also find Ethan Hawke sexy in a non-traditional way. Kaiser, have you seen the movie Taking Lives with him & Angelina Jolie? I felt like I needed to take a cold shower afterwards lol.

  12. truth fairy says:

    “I used my 20s and 30s to learn a lot about acting. Then I turned 40, and I started working my ass off”
    Imagine a world where a woman in the field could have that life and be appreciated for it!

    (Not to blame Ethan – good for him)

  13. Nev says:

    Reality Bites. He was hot. That’s all.

  14. Anonymous says:

    @Lizzie: Ethan mentioned he was overcome working with Angelina Jolie. Not sure if he was already divorced then. To be clear, Angie did not do anything. He was just describing how he felt working with her.

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      I did see some interviews with him about that movie where he seemed really struck by her (and who could blame him–she’s gorgeous). I don’t for a second think anything happened, but their chemistry in that movie is off the charts.

  15. Ann says:

    The book was so good. I hope this does it Justice.

  16. Redgrl says:

    As a Gen-Xer I love him. Will probably watch this. Visited Harper’s Ferry once – very interesting and learned a lot.

  17. WintryMix says:

    I share the guilty attraction to Ethan…Before Sunrise got me and I haven’t been right since, what can I say. 

    Crossing my fingers that they have the self-awareness to avoid the white savior trope with this one, because he’s 100% right that America has to face into our past if we want to move forward.

  18. Jolie says:

    As a Brit I have found it interesting that many here rightly complain about the British Empire (as if it is the only empire ever!) and our disgraceful part in the slave trade. But those same ones who complain don’t seem to stop to think that there are two sides to any trade. So that, when their ancestors were busy wiping out the Native Americans, they were also busy buying slaves from us. Also the US Civil War took place because the southern states did not want to abolish slavery, 30 years after it had been abolished in the UK.

    Neither side of the Atlantic have much to be proud of on these issues.

    • MsGnomer says:

      There is an incredible podcast from the NYT: 1619. Amazing listen. One shocking fact about American history, is that slavery and cotton farming was the American economy. It was considered too big to fail….. Britain wanted American textiles. All connected.

      Also as Gen X, have to say I never thought EH was authentic or hot. Just kinda dumb and entitled.