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An ordinary man with an extraordinary story

Ordinary people can do great things. Think of Abraham Lincoln, who was born into a log cabin and struggled in business before teaching himself law and eventually becoming one of America’s greatest presidents. Or think of Joseph Hoover, the subject of the new Civil War movie “Union Bound.”

“The little guy can achieve things,” said Michael Davis, who produced “Union Bound” and wrote the companion book. “We hear all this talk in politics about ‘the little guy’ and the underprivileged, so to speak, and here’s just a common man who went to war. He himself said he went to war to free slaves but was freed by them.”

Joseph Hoover was a farmer from Utica, New York, who enlisted in the Union Army. He was captured by Confederate forces and taken to the notorious Andersonville prison. He was later transferred to another prison, from which he and a friend escaped. With the help of slaves and the Underground Railroad, the two men made it back to Union-held territory.

Hoover chronicled his experiences in two 1864 diaries that survive to this day and formed the basis for “Union Bound.”

“What makes it interesting is his human adventure, and not just a physical adventure of looking for freedom, but a psychological and even spiritual journey of freedom in achieving this quest that he went on,” Davis said.

Davis, the president of Uptone Pictures, thinks Hoover went to war mainly because the army would pay more money than he made as a farmer. Hoover had a big family – roughly 13 brothers and sisters – that he wanted to help.

“He was a very simple man,” Davis said of Hoover. “He didn’t write the most prolific types of things, but his diaries are very consistent and have brought a lot of interest from different scholars and different educators on the whole concept of the Underground Railroad.”

Davis explained that Hoover’s account flipped the concept of the Underground Railroad on its head. Schools teach children the Underground Railroad was a network of mostly white abolitionists that helped escaped slaves flee the South, but Hoover documented a case where black slaves used the railroad to help two white men escape to freedom.

Davis described Hoover as pragmatic and also frugal.

“He was always the one in his diary who talks about, ‘Well, I lent a pair of socks to this guy and I lent $5 to this guy and so-and-so borrowed this,'” Davis recounted. “So he was the guy that always had stuff, so I don’t think he spent a lot of his own on himself, but he was always thinking about how he could maybe make a little bit of money, maybe invest his money in ways that he could make money back. So I think he was a frugal man, very pragmatic, and I’m very grateful that he was, because we have some great diaries from him.”

Davis also admires Hoover for being a man of his word. When Hoover enlisted in the army, he promised to fight for the Union through the end of the war. After his long ordeal of being captured, escaping and journeying back to safe territory, it would have been easy for him to go back to his farm and sit out the rest of the war. But instead, Hoover rejoined his regiment and continued fighting.

Davis hopes audiences will appreciate Hoover’s values.

“It’s time for us to restore good American values, what this country was built on – honor, integrity, when you give your word that you’ll follow through with what you said and things of that nature,” Davis said.

While making this movie, Davis extensively researched not only Hoover but also the entire Civil War period. He observed certain similarities between that era and today.

“One of the things I noticed is that it seems like over the last 150 years we’re kind of right back where we started,” he noted. “Race relations today are probably as crazy now as they were back then, and unfortunately we need more stories like ‘Union Bound.’ We need more people that’ll come together and work together to erase this silly notion that one color is better than another.”

One sign of the turbulent race relations in today’s America was the brouhaha over this year’s Oscar nominees. In 2016, for the second year in a row, all 20 actors nominated in the lead and supporting acting categories were white. As a result, several Hollywood stars publicly chastised the Academy, others boycotted the ceremony, and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended on Twitter.

If people want more diversity in their movies, Davis begs them to take a look at his film.

“‘Union Bound’ is actually the alternative to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy,” Davis reasoned. “It’s about whites and blacks, or whites and colored people, working together for a common goal, and actually in our story the slave Jim Young is the hero. So we actually did exactly what is being clamored for out there to promote diversity in film.”

Tank Jones, who has also appeared in “Breaking Bad,” “CSI: Miami,” “Rules of Engagement” and a number of TV commercials, played Jim Young in “Union Bound.” Young was the black slave who was most instrumental in helping the two white soldiers escape to freedom.

Davis said he was watching a panel discussion of the Oscars “controversy” on TV when someone remarked, “It’s about time that we make films that are more inclusive.”

“Well, we have a film that’s more inclusive, and that’s ‘Union Bound,’ and I urge you to go see it on April 22,” Davis retorted.

The producer hopes moviegoers will pick up on the theme of racial harmony when they see “Union Bound.”

“I want people to walk away from this understanding that it is possible for people of different backgrounds, different colors, different areas of the world to work together and come to common ground and achieve things together and not be so divisive,” he said.