Crime & Justice Film Series: John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison

Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Event Time 04:00 p.m. - 06:30 p.m. PT
Location LIB 121 at the J. Paul Leonard Library
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Crime & Justice Film Series: John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison


Join us at the J. Paul Leonard Library room LIB121 in San Francisco, CA for an exploration about what happens at the intersections of art and justice when self-confessed killers are transformed by a play. We'll watch and discuss the documentary film, John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison.

The third and final installment in the Spring 2024 Crime & Justice Film Series, those in attendence will be invited to submit recommendations for next year's program.


If you have any questions, please contact the event organizers: Dr. Albert de la Tierra ( and Professor Mary Juno (



This thought-provoking film delves into the powerful narrative of a mixed-race group of prisoners who, against all odds, mount a compelling play within the confines of San Quentin Prison. Centered around the themes of slavery, freedom, and the Civil War, the prisoners undergo a transformative three-year experience that transcends the boundaries of their incarcerated existence.

Initially conceived as a theater project, the documentary captures the profound journey of prisoner-actors whose dedication to the craft breaks down barriers. The film director, Joe De Francesco, faced initial resistance from prison authorities due to the script's edgy racial content. However, as the prisoners' commitment and determination became evident, the warden granted permission for multiple cameras to record the groundbreaking performance.

Stephen Winn, lead drama critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, lauds the production, stating that a remarkable ensemble of murderers and career felons brought "art and life, aspiration and reality" into sharp focus. The men, with little formal education or acting experience, delivered a powerful performance off-book, unraveling the complexities of characters like John Brown, Lincoln, and Robert E. Lee.

Against the backdrop of racial tension and violence within the walls of San Quentin, this documentary unfolds a tale of resilience and redemption. With intimate, frank, and revealing interviews, the actor-inmates share their profound connection with the neglected American masterpiece. The film seamlessly weaves key excerpts from the play with the inmates' personal narratives, drawing startling parallels between the fictional drama and the harsh reality of their lives.

"John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison" challenges perceptions, offering a glimpse into the transformative power of the arts for those torn by bad choices and the legacy of racism. Don't miss the opportunity to witness this extraordinary exploration of freedom, responsibility, and the potential for new beginnings. Purchase your ticket now and be part of an unforgettable cinematic experience that goes beyond the prison bars to touch the essence of the human spirit.



John Brown's Body at San Quentin Prison

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