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22 Ratings


Directed by Charles Burnett
United States, 1996


Sarny, a 12-year-old slave girl in the ante-bellum South, faces a relatively hopeless life. Then Nightjohn arrives. A former runaway slave who bears telltale scars on his back, he takes Sarny under his wing and, in exchange for a pinch of tobacco, secretly begins to teach her to read and write, a cr

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Nightjohn Directed by Charles Burnett

Critics reviews

Remarkably, Burnett reappropriates the fairytale palette that has swaddled depictions of the antebellum South since Gone With The Wind. He snatches it out of the plantation house and applies it to scenes of slaves meeting or working in moonlight, creating a sense of denied life coming out in secret.
August 09, 2016
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This historical drama about black slavery, a telemovie made for Disney, has all the conventional stateliness and restraint of a William Wyler film. But how utterly compelling it is – subtle, complexly shaded and novelistic in the best sense of the term.
March 01, 1997
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Burnett’s emotionally overpowering, almost perfectly realized fifth feature, Nightjohn, is his first wholly accessible movie and unambiguous mainstream triumph — though ironically it seems to have come at the cost of increasing his anonymity.
July 12, 1996
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