Movie production company Legion M announced that screenwriter Rob Edwards joined the pre-production team for Defiant, a movie on Civil War hero Captain Robert Smalls.
Rob Edward is best known for his work on Disney movies like The Princess and the Frog and Treasure Planet. He has also consulted for Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, and Frozen. His early career included writing and producing for TV shows like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Full House, and In Living Color.
About Robert Smalls
Robert Smalls was born into slavery in 1839 and grew up on a plantation in Beaumont, South Carolina. By 1861, he was an enslaved pilot on a boat that had been leased to the Confederate navy as a troop transport. In 1862, the Confederacy had won some early victories in the Civil War. However, Smalls had a chance to escape with other enslaved crew members when the Confederate officers in charge of the ship went ashore in Charleston.
Moving quickly, Smalls led his fellow slaves in seizing control of the ship and headed north, picking up their families at a wharf along the way. They got past Confederate forces in Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie because Smalls knew how to disguise himself as the ship’s captain and give the correct signals. They reached territory controlled by Union forces and turned the ship over to the U.S. Navy.
During the war, Smalls served with the U.S. Navy, reaching the rank of captain and even commanding the same ship that he had stolen from the Confederacy.
In the later years of the Civil War, he purchased his former master’s mansion using prize money from absconding with the ship, led an early effort to desegregate Philedelphia’s public transit system, and became a delegate at the Republican National Convention. After the Civil War, he won elections that placed him in the South Carolina legislature, and then was elected as a representative in the United States’ Congress.
He died in 1915 and his name became nearly forgotten as politicians in power implemented harsh segregation policies and suppressed knowledge of successful former slaves. A revival included a 2017 executive order signed by Barack Obama designated the Reconstruction Era National Monument in South Carolina’s Beaufort County. It was later renamed Reconstruction Era National Historical Park and includes a visitor center not far from Smalls’ home and church.
About the movie and Legion M
Rob Edwards said of this chance to help make a movie based on Robert Smalls’ life, “Knowing the influence that Captain Robert Smalls has, it encapsulates so much more than his heroics during the Civil War. I wanted to be able to really dive in for a comprehensive retelling for people who aren’t familiar with his story. By working with Legion M and being able to expand this into a graphic novel before transitioning into a film, I think it’s a great way to introduce an American hero to so many new audiences.”
The Defiant team includes Bill Duke as executive producer and Marvin Jones III as producer. Bill Duke is best known for his work on Predator, Commando, and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. He previously worked with Marvin Jones III on CW’s Black Lightning. Marvin Jones III’s previous work also includes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
The Defiant production team recently made an appearance at LA Comic Con. Legion M also promoted an equity crowdfunding campaign it is currently conducting on StartEngine and You Can Call Me Bill, a documentary-in-progress about William Shatner, at the event.
A release date for Defiant has not yet been announced.