Veteran actor John Stamos has been tapped to replace Denzel Washington as the titular character in the upcoming biopic “Frederick,” about 19th century abolitionist and social reformer Frederick Douglass, Universal Pictures announced on Tuesday. The stunning 11th hour announcement, made just days before the film is set to begin production in South Carolina, has sent shockwaves through Hollywood and raised the ire of many within the African-American community.
Stamos, perhaps best known for his role as heartthrob “Uncle Jesse Katsopolis” on the long-running ABC sitcom “Full House,” had long and puzzlingly coveted the role of the ex-slave who, upon escaping slavery, would become an influential abolitionist and ultimately one of the most inspiring figures in American and African-American history. Stamos, who is white, has often noted Douglass’ influence on his acting career.
“Without Frederick Douglass there would be no ‘Uncle Jesse’,” Stamos told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in 1989. “(In season 2) I felt I really channeled Frederick’s inner strength, especially during the filming of ‘Cutting It Close,’ the season two premiere when Stephanie accidentally cuts off a chunk of Jesse’s hair. Losing a relatively miniscule tuft of hair was a traumatic experience for Jesse, whose sense of self leaned so heavily on his flowing tresses. I don’t think I could have so accurately portrayed that trauma had I not previously read My Bondage and My Freedom, which of course was Frederick Douglass’ 1855 autobiographical slave narrative.”
While Stamos’ representatives noted the actor’s excitement at landing the coveted role, many others, most notably those in the African-American community, do not share that enthusiasm.
“I can’t even put into words how much this upsets me and those in my community,” said a visibly shaken Reverend Al Sharpton, a longtime advocate for African-Americans and African-American causes. “Putting aside how deeply this upsets me on a personal and spiritual level, I find it hard to believe anyone in their right mind could ever think John Stamos is the man to bring Frederick Douglass alive on the big screen. Sure, it’s an affront to Frederick Douglass’ legacy. But it’s also an affront to anyone who has ever attended or wants to one day attend a movie.”
Reactions like Sharpton’s are not an aberration, but Universal is standing behind its casting of Stamos, who began his acting career in 1983, when he landed the role of “Blackie” on the popular daytime soap opera “General Hospital.” In its statement regarding the last-minute casting change, Universal noted the longstanding rumor that the popular James Bond film series, which currently stars actor Daniel Craig as the legendarily suave British secret intelligence officer, was in talks to cast Idris Elba as the first black James Bond when Craig’s deal expires.
“If there can be a black James Bond, and we at Universal feel there certainly can be, then we see no reason why there can’t also be a white Frederick Douglass who traces his roots to England and Greece,” the statement read.
That support seems to have spurred Stamos’ interest in additional historical projects, as the actor has already publicly expressed a desire to star in the lead role in “MCD,” the as yet uncast biographical feature about late actor Michael Clarke Duncan’s improbable rise to fame.