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In the novel The Good Lord Bird, the young slave Henry dresses in a sackcloth during an escape from violence, and subsequently takes advantage of being mistaken for a girl as he seeks freedom. It’s not the role you might assume Jaden Smith would take to follow a couple of Karate Kid movies (the second is moving forward now) and After Earth. Nevertheless, it’s the movie he’s doing.

The book’s author, James McBride, is adapting the script. Deadline reports that Liev Schreiber is producing and co-starring, as the abolitionist with whom Henry goes on the run and through whom we meet various historical figures.  Most of those figures have yet to be cast, and there is no director named at this point, either.

Here’s a description of the novel:

Abolitionist John Brown calls her “Little Onion,” but her real name is Henry. A slave in Kansas mistaken for a girl due to the sackcloth smock he was wearing when Brown shot his master, the light-skinned, curly-haired 12-year-old ends up living as a young woman, most often encamped with Brown’s renegade band of freedom warriors as they traverse the country, raising arms and ammunition for their battle against slavery. Though they travel to Rochester, New York, to meet with Frederick Douglass and Canada to enlist the help of Harriet Tubman, Brown and his ragtag army fail to muster sufficient support for their mission to liberate African Americans, heading inexorably to the infamously bloody and pathetic raid on Harpers Ferry.

Dramatizing Brown’s pursuit of racial freedom and insane belief in his own divine infallibility through the eyes of a child fearful of becoming a man, best-selling McBride (Song Yet Sung, 2008) presents a sizzling historical novel that is an evocative escapade and a provocative pastiche of Larry McMurtry’s salty western satires and William Styron’s seminal insurrection masterpiece, The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967). McBride works Little Onion’s low-down patois to great effect, using the savvy but scared innocent to bring a fresh immediacy to this sobering chapter in American history.

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