Local film about Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman coming

Octavia Spencer signs on as executive producer of local film, ‘Mumbet’

Spencer won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 2012 for “The Help,” and a Golden Globe in 2016 for “Hidden Figures.” In 2017, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and a BAFTA Award for her role in “The Shape of Water.”

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of helping to tell such an important story. It’s time for everyone to know about Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman,” said Spencer in a press release.

“It means a tremendous amount, it’s huge,” said the film’s director Alethea Root of Spencer’s involvement with the film. “Octavia’s thing is about connecting people and elevating women in film, and bringing talent together, so she will be helping with that. It brings a lot of weight to our project and makes people pay attention, where it was just this gang of merry filmmakers from the Berkshires, now it’s playing with the big boys. Not boys — now we’re playing with the big girls. And it’s one step closer to realizing getting the film made.”

Based on the children’s book, “A Free Woman on God’s Earth” by local authors Jana Laiz and Ann-Elizabeth Barnes, the film, with a screenplay by Stephen Glantz, follows the life of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a Massachusetts slave who seized her place in American history when she sued for her freedom in 1781.

“Mumbet was a hero, and she changed the course of history just by her perseverance,” Laiz said.

Freeman was a slave at birth, born in 1742, and became the property of her Sheffield owner Col. John Ashley when she was a teenager. Ashley was one of the crafters of the Sheffield Resolve, an early colonial declaration of individual rights that it is believed to have been crafted in Ashley’s Sheffield home in 1773.

“That was the first document in the United States claiming the idea that all men were born free and equal,” said Root. “These 11 men wrote this document while Mumbet was serving them. She was a slave of that household of John Ashley, and they would meet at that house and talk about the Enlightenment and talk about these ideas of freedom. She was listening from day one to these conversations, and she was privy to this letter.”

After the Revolutionary War, inspired by the very words which made their way to the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 and later the American Constitution, Freeman sued for her freedom. The following year she won.

“It’s so cool that she got to hear those words for the very first time being written down on paper while she was enslaved and working, and then got to use those very words those white guys wrote for themselves to free herself and to change the laws afterward.”

Spencer was not familiar with Freeman, but became so when given the book a couple of years ago, and wanting to be involved when she was informed of the production.

Freeman has become a beloved historical figure in the Berkshires, with the Ashley House as a historical and educational site and the Elizabeth Freeman Center, named in her honor, working to help victims of domestic violence.

Laiz, who’s lived in Egremont for 30 years, began writing the book with Barnes in 2006, when she was a teacher in Pittsfield. She was teaching English to some African students and during Black History Month wanted to introduce them to some local heroes.

“I was driving through Stockbridge on my way to school, and I remembered there was a woman buried there that was important and I wasn’t sure why,” Laiz said. “Her name was Mumbet, but I didn’t know much about her.”

Some quick research proved to Laiz that there wasn’t much information out there in book form, but her first book had just come out and the topic intrigued her enough that she wanted to take it on. By coincidence, there was a talk being given locally about Freeman that she decided to attend. The speaker turned out to be co-author Barnes, who worked as a historic interpreter at the Ashley House.

Root became familiar with the book through her mother — Barnes is Root’s aunt — and an emotional reading with Root’s grandmother one day set the course for the movie project.

“We were both crying when we read it,” said Root, “and she took my hand and said, ‘You have to make this a movie.'”

Since then, the film has gained the support of former governor Deval Patrick, who has helped with financial and other networking.

Root was born in England, but moved to Great Barrington when she was 3 and grew up in the Berkshires. She has an ancestral connection, too — Aaron Root, on her grandfather’s side, was one of the 11 men who wrote the Sheffield Resolve. Root’s feature-length directorial debut was the indie film, “Part-Time Fabulous” in 2011.

Root says that what lies ahead involves a lot of meetings, working on financing and casting, with the goal of moving into pre-production.

“Our dream would be shooting at the end of August, beginning of fall,” she said.

The plan is to shoot in the Berkshires, hopefully on the Ashley House grounds with a recreation of that house on a soundstage at Shakespeare and Company.

The details

– “Mumbet” will be directed by Alethea Root (“Part Time Fabulous”) and produced by Kim Waltrip (“Hit & Run”) of Wonderstar Productions and Root of Truth 13 Productions.

– The script was written by Stephen Glantz (“Wunderkinder”) is based on the book “A Free Woman on God’s Earth” by Jana Laiz and Ann-Elizabeth Barnes.

– Elizabeth Aspenlieder, “House of Cards” actress Jayne Atkinson, Glantz and Libby Heimark are also executive producing.

– Casting has not been announced.


Berkshire Eagle letter to the editor

Letter: Embracing all voices on sexual violence


To the editor:

On Thursday April 12, I’ll be joining many others, both men and women, in celebrating International Women’s Day at Flavours of Malaysia in downtown Pittsfield. The event, which was postponed from the traditional date of March 8 due to a snow storm, is a benefit for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, the front line and major safety net in Berkshire County for all persons affected by domestic and sexual violence.

While it would have been good to hold the hold the celebration on March 8, it’s totally appropriate and fitting that it’s been rescheduled during the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The theme of SAAM this year, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, is “Embrace Your Voice.” Certainly during this past year and more, we have seen many women raising their voices, and embracing those voices, through such things as the Women’s March, and the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

There is progress being made, but there is so very much more that needs to be done to raise awareness and bring about concrete change in society around issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as economic issues such as gender equity in the workplace. It’s important that we men recognize the issues and also raise our voices: as long as domestic violence and sexual assault continue to be seen as exclusively “women’s issues” little will change. While men and boys are sometimes victimized as well, although not at the same rate as girls and women, the fact is that most perpetrators are men, and there needs to be a change to the culture and to our views of “masculinity.”

Please join us on April 12 at Flavours at 5 for a cash bar social hour, followed by a great buffet dinner prepared by our hosts Sabrina and Chin. Tickets are available at Flavours, Steven Valenti’s and Dottie’s, and on line at

Lanny M. Zuckerman


The writer is a member of the Board of Directors and treasurer of the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

Money School Returns

Workshops to be offered in Pittsfield and Great Barrington

PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts: Elizabeth Freeman Center’s financial independence series for people impacted by domestic or sexual violence will offer its second year of classes starting mid-March.

“Money School” is a five week series for survivors that covers topics like rebuilding credit, accessing benefits, building supports, getting by now, and action planning.  It was created through a partnership between Elizabeth Freeman Center and the American Institute for Economic Research.

A $125 stipend will be offered, as well as free dinner, childcare, one-on-one financial coaches from local banks, networking with other resource providers in the community, and ongoing supports.

Many times survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault are left struggling financially.

“Money School is not your typical financial education program,” said Becca Bradburd, Director of Operations at Elizabeth Freeman Center.  “It recognizes that for most people, especially those who are living through or recovering from trauma, it can seem impossible to get ahead.  In Money School, we provide economic advocacy, social capital, financial know-how, and ongoing support to get people where they want to be financially – whether that’s being able to go to school or have an emergency fund or rebuild credit or something else entirely.”

The first series of five workshops will run on Tuesday evenings, March 15th-April 12th, in Pittsfield.  The second and third series will be held in Great Barrington and again in Pittsfield starting in late April.  All workshops are 5:00-8:00pm, with food, childcare, and a stipend provided.

To register for any of the series, contact Donna at Elizabeth Freeman Center, 413.499.2425 x613 or

Money School is made possible by strong community support, including grants from Guardian Life Insurance Company, TD Charitable Foundation, Berkshire Bank Foundation, and MountainOne, with additional in-kind support from the bankers at Greylock Federal Credit Union, TD Bank, Berkshire Bank, NBT Bank, and Lee Bank.


EFC-Logo-2015-RGBElizabeth Freeman Center is the domestic and sexual violence response center for Berkshire County.  Each year, it provides leadership and services to over 3,000 survivors in Berkshire County and offers violence prevention education to almost 1,000 youth in area schools.

aierlogo_PMS3015_Acronym_Name_stackedThe American Institute for Economic Research provides independent research and critical analysis of economic and financial issues. AIER researchers provide ordinary people with expert advice and insight they can use to improve their lives and communities. For more information, visit


Berkshire Eagle letter to the editor, Dec. 21: Domestic violence a community problem

Letter: Domestic violence a community problem

To the editor:

The week before last, Halena Irene Gill was murdered and police have arrested her husband. We at Elizabeth Freeman Center are greatly saddened by Ms. Gill’s tragic death and our deepest sympathies go out to her family and friends.

Though we do not yet know all of the circumstances of her death, Ms. Gill would be the 17th victim of murder by a spouse or partner in Massachusetts this year. This figure is shocking. It also cannot be understood outside the context of domestic violence. Domestic violence is devastating and it happens a lot, often behind closed doors with no clear clue for outsiders. We know this and sadly, we have known this for a long time.

For well over 20 years, studies have shown that one in three American women and one in ten American men are beaten, stalked or raped. We know that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to girls and women between the ages of 15 and 44. We know that abuse can happen to anyone — of any income level, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or ability — and is deserved by no one. We know that it happens here in Berkshire County: our rate of restraining orders is 28 percent higher than the state average, and in the past 10 years, one-third of the approximately 18 murders in the county are domestic violence homicides. Perhaps most significantly, we know that violence is preventable.

For all that we as a society know, domestic violence is still shrouded in silence. Victims are still blamed for “tolerating” the violence. Society spends few resources on services to help violence survivors get safe and build a new life. Society spends even fewer resources on violence prevention programming, particularly for our youth who can be taught to talk or walk instead of hit. Violence prevention education is our greatest hope for breaking the patterns of violence.

Nothing can excuse cruelty and violence. In the names and memories of Halena, Rebecca, Julie, Michelle and all those who have been murdered or beaten up or beaten down or raped or terrorized by their partners, spouses, dates or family members, we will charge forward. The tragedy and loss caused by domestic violence must be acknowledged and prioritized. It can be stopped. This is a community problem and we as a community must respond.

Elizabeth Freeman Center provides 24-hour services to survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence. If you sense something is wrong with someone you know, reach out to them in private. If you hear fighting or angry shouting next door, call the police — it is better to err on the side of safety. If you are worried for yourself or someone you know, if you are being bullied, beaten, or belittled by someone, call us. You can reach us any time, any day, toll free, at 866-401-2425. Our services are free and confidential. We don’t believe in telling survivors what to do, what to want, or how to proceed. We believe in offering concrete support, information, and help whenever and as often as needed. You are not alone.

Janis Broderick and Jane Lawless, Pittsfield

Janis Broderick is executive director and Jane Lawless is president, Board of Directors, Elizabeth Freeman Center.