Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

The Freedom Quest of Oney Judge

The Freedom Quest of Oney Judge

Spring 2016 Television
Ages: 10 & Up
Rating: TV Y 7

Oney "Ona" Judge was an enslaved servant of George and Martha Washington, and the details of her life and daring escape in 1796 were well-preserved through interviews by abolitionist newspapers later in her life. The Freedom Quest of Oney Judge is a fictionalized account of actual historic events, produced for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia as part of its HERO Live! series.

In this three act porgram, the story begins a decade after Oney's escape, when a smug and supercilious nephew of Martha Washington finds Oney and tries to bully her back to Mount Vernon. The tale proceeds in a series of flashbacks, showing why she decided to attempt escape and how she managed to leave her life of slavery behind. It also chronicles the efforts of President Washington to re-capture Oney years later using maddeningly hush-hush methods in hopes of avoiding public scrutiny and censure.

The slave owners are shown as cheerful and insipid, later dismayed that a well-treated slave would repay them with such ingratitude by running away. While she was not physically mistreated, Oney (Mary Carter), like all other slaves, was considered no more than possessions equivalent to, say, livestock or furniture, something Oney feels keenly and resents deeply. But when Oney is sent with the family to Philadelphia, she witnesses a place where Black people live and work as free men and women, a place where there are few slaves and Black children even attend school. A local Black cobbler mentions to Oney that Pennsylvania law says that any slave brought to the state must be freed after six months. Oney, who has been in Pennsylvania for more than two years, realizes the Washingtons have probably been circumventing the law by taking her out of the state every so often, effectively restarting the "six-month clock" each time. Outraged, Oney bides her time until she sees the opportunity to slip away and pursue a new life as a free woman. The quest leads her to freedom, but not to a life of peace, as she must continue to evade her former slave masters and the law, even after she is married and has a child.

The broadcast version of this program, shown on a number of public stations around the U.S., includes additional talk-show style interviews with the actors, still in character, answering questions from a host and from students who appear via video clips. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation also sells a DVD version of the program that includes additional video content and PDF files with a teacher's guide and program script, compatible with Windows 2000 or higher and Mac OSX or higher.

The Freedom Quest of Oney Judge is well-scripted, well-scored, and capably directed by Jorin Hood. Fans of historic events and students studying history are very likely to appreciate the insights presented in this program and while details and dialogue may be creatively imagined, the struggles Oney Judge faced are indisputably true, challenging viewers to consider all of the ways slavery debased and humiliated its victims.

Gina Catanzarite   ©2016 Parents' Choice
Gina Catanzarite is an award-winning television producer, writer, teacher, mom and media consultant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She began her career in 1987 and counts 9 Emmy awards, 26 Emmy nominations, a Matrix award, two Pennsylvania Broadcaster's Association Awards, 8 Telly Awards, and a screenwriting grant from the Theatre Association of Pennsylvania, among her professional honors.

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Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

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