This month, Jeffrey Wright collaborated on three different projects honoring the life and legacy of orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who the Westworld actor refers to as “an undercelebrated and extraordinary American.”
For Apple TV+, Wright served as narrator of the docuseries Lincoln’s Dilemma, and he recorded an audio version of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass—Douglass’ first autobiography. Both are available now.
The American history superfan also worked with HBO and HBO Max on the documentary Frederick Douglass in Five Speeches, premiering February 23.
Wright spoke with Deadline about his admiration for Douglass, a former slave who would go on to play a pivotal role consulting President Abraham Lincoln and help change the course of history.
“I think Douglass is an undercelebrated and extraordinary American and his contributions to Lincoln’s presidency are profound. And he pushed [Lincoln] to be the president that we know and celebrate him for now,” Wright said. “If you go back and look at Lincoln, probably the freshest lens to view him through is that of Frederick Douglass. And there is no one alive today who even begins to be as critical of Lincoln as Frederick Douglass was, particularly early in his presidency.”
Wright added, “He was critical of Lincoln at the start, but at the end of his presidency, we see through Douglass that Lincoln was imperfect. Lincoln was slow at times to be as progressive as many wanted him to be or we might have wanted him to be now.”
Douglass helped Lincoln see how slavery affected every man, not just those in the Black community. Thus he helped a man who at one time suggested Black people leave the U.S. after being freed to open his mind to seeing the bigger picture.
“Douglass describes an honorable man who kept his promises to Black people in this country and to the country as a whole. What Douglass and Lincoln see is that slavery was not just an affliction on Black people in this country, it was an affliction on all people,” Wright shared.
“It was a sickness at the very soul of our country that infected every American, and that’s where Lincoln is at the end of his presidency,” he continued. “And that’s the work that he’s done not only the words that he speaks when he describes the brutality of slavery in his second inaugural address, but in his actions — we see that he has gone about plucking this rot out of the body of America, the rot that was slavery. He was as Douglass described him: a white man of his times who was burdened by the racial prejudices of his time, but at the end of the day, his legacy is a progressive one for all Americans.”
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