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Deconstructing Frederick Douglass: Colman Domingo voices an American legend in new HBO documentary

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He was a Maryland slave who taught himself to read and write, then escaped to New York disguised as a sailor. At just 20 years old, young Frederick Douglass took his first steps to becoming one of the most prominent voices in civil rights history. That journey is the focus of a new HBO documentary Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches.

Part of HBO’s Black History Month programming, the documentary spotlights five keys speeches in Douglass’ career, brought to life by actors Jeffrey WrightNicole BeharieJonathan MajorsDenzel Whitaker and Colman Domingo.

“I knew the ‘Cliff notes’ of Frederick Douglass to be honest,” Domingo tells ABC Audio. “And then I went deeper into his speeches. And how extraordinary they were…he was so bold, and articulate and intelligent.”

The Euphoria and Fear The Walking Dead star recites passages from Douglass’ 1863 speech “The Proclamation and a Negro Army” in the HBO project.

Colman says the 19th century activist’s words have a powerful resonance in light of present-day social issues. “…There’s always a direct link to the recent movements of Black Lives Matter,” Coleman asserts. “Always. Just saying ‘we matter’ See us as human. See us as fully invested, involved human beings.”

And if Douglass were actually here today? Domingo thinks there can be only one occupation for him: “I think he would be probably one of the dopest hip hop artists! Because he knows the power of music. And poetry. And getting the message out to young Black men….He would be more like an artist like Common, someone who is really in service of uplifting our people.” 

Frederick Douglass: In Five Speeches, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight, premieres tonight on HBO 9:00 p.m. ET.

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