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A young refugee slave comes of age in a "contraband" camp during the Civil War fighting for his family's and his people's freedom.
In the early days of the Civil war, three male slaves row their boat to Union-held Fort Monroe, Virginia. They ask the general there for sanctuary, which he grants. This is the beginnings of "contraband" camps in the South-Union army positions where refugee slaves flocked in the hopes of winning their freedom. Tucker Thomas and his family make their way to the fort after escaping their plantation. Life in the camp is very difficult, with shortages of everything-housing, clothes, and food. The camp is periodically attacked by confederate guerillas. Early on, Tucker's father Isham is kidnapped back into slavery by confederate guerillas in cahoots with a corrupt Union army sergeant who used to be the overseer on the plantation the family escaped. Tucker's aunt is betrayed by the same army sergeant and is also sold back into slavery.
Tucker, seventeen, is determined to join the army that is just beginning to accept black troops. He has several hopes in doing so: Escape the squalor of the camp, look for his father to try and free him, and fight for his people's freedom as a soldier in the black cavalry. He leaves his girlfriend, Olivia, behind and asks that she wait for him until he returns.
There is a parallel story of Tucker's aunt Fannie's family. They leave the camp for a "leased" plantation that was captured by the Union army. The plantation has been leased to a former slave that was on the same plantation as Fannie and her husband, Jessey. It turns out he has a history with Fannie and Jessey. He proves himself to be just as mean and vindictive as any white plantation owner could be.
The film follows Tucker as he fights and is wounded in various actual battles that black soldiers fought in. After many setbacks involving his failure to free his father and finally a harrowing scene in which his mother is killed by guerillas invading the camp, Tucker redeems himself by proving himself a hero in a vicious battle he is involved in at Suffolk where he saves the life of his best friend, Isssac.
This is a sweeping, epic story of a young man's coming of age and his family's determination to stay together through incredibly difficult circumstances, where their only assets are their love for each other and their sheer determination to one day live in freedom. It tells the little known, yet historically important story of the contraband camps, the first taste of freedom for escaped slaves during the Civil War. These camps became the basis for African American communities that came to thrive in the South after the Civil War. Comparable screenplays would be 12 Years A Slave and Glory, with a special relevance to the worldwide refugee situation we are witnessing today.