EXCLUSIVE: Provenance Films, a subsidiary of Provenance Ventures, has optioned the 2017 book Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge form author Erica Armstrong Dunbar for a feature. LaToya Morgan, whose writing credits include The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands, Shameless, is attached to adapt the screenplay.
The book, which was a National Book Award Finalist in Nonfiction, centers around Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked everything to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom. Judge, who was denied freedom, left everything she knew to escape to New England. She became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.
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After George Washington was elected president, following the Revolutionary War, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in the nation’s capital of New York City, which five years later after the Paris Treaty moved to Philadelphia, both temporary homes of the young nation’s capital. In setting up his households in both cities, he brought along nine slaves, including a very young Judge. As the President grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he could not abide: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.
“Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s impeccably researched, masterfully written, and critically acclaimed work tells the true story of how one woman risked everything for her freedom from one of America’s most famous founding fathers,” said Lisa Ellis, Managing Partner of Provenance Ventures. “At Provenance Films, we are drawn to thought-provoking stories that further the national and global conversations on race, gender, history, and perspective, and look to collaborate with poignant storytellers and creators who not only aim to beautifully portray these narratives on screen, but also provide untold truths to history, inclusive opportunities, and provide representation for others throughout every step of the creative process. Dunbar’s book reminded me of how history has not been told in its entirety. We have truly assembled a powerful team with LaToya Morgan now onboard to further adapt this history for a cinematic audience which will continue to share Ona Judge’s legacy for future generations on screen.”