Presidential assassin or democracy’s savior? That’s the question at the center of Greg Newberry’s latest independent feature film, Who Is Amos Otis? The courtroom drama and political thriller follows the fictional Amos Otis’s trial after he assassinates the President of the United States, pleads self-defense, and tries to convince a jury that he saved the world from an unhinged ruler. The film was released on-demand on December 28 and is now available through Amazon Prime, Vimeo, YouTube, and other major streaming platforms.
Newberry wrote, produced, and directed Who Is Amos Otis? as a stage drama in 2019. It premiered at Memorial Hall that September and was voted “Favorite Local Production” by Movers & Makers magazine. He says it was nominated and considered for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Likened to such TV shows as The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, the film offers a speculative take on a future shaped by real current events. The president in question remains anonymous, which Newberry says was intentional. He describes the unseen leader as “a ruthless type character” and “wannabe dictator.” “The story picks up after the assassination,” says the Cincinnati native. “I wanted people to create their own person, whoever they could imagine.”
Still, details from American history are woven into the script—including the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy—and the film shows scenes of political demonstrations and social uprisings that parallel those taking place today. Other social issues addressed include climate change and the mistrust of science, the dangers of political division, the rise of authoritarianism, and the intersection of media and politics. “I think the story is a cautionary tale of what can happen,” says Newberry. “When lies become the truth and when the truth becomes lies, democracy dies. That’s the pivotal question or statement in the film.”
There’s an unintended, eerie poignance in the timing of Who Is Amos Otis? Newberry wrote the play in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, funneling his fears and concerns about the American political landscape into creative work. In October 2020, the production team wrapped filming of his screen adaptation. They finalized the trailer on January 4, 2021, and Newberry sent it to his sales agent in Los Angeles. “Then on January 6, my phone blew up,” he says. “Everyone was going, Turn on the TV, your movie’s on TV,” referring to the Capitol insurrection taking place in Washington, D.C.
Who Is Amos Otis? was filmed locally with a Cincinnati cast and production crew. It stars Josh Katawick as Amos and Rico Reid as his defense attorney. Supporting cast members include Michael G. Bath, A.J. Ford, Christine Brunner, Derek Snow, Christine Jones, Mike Dennis, Donald Volpenhein, Peggy Allen, Denise Dal Vera, and Carol Brammer. David Morrison is the director of photography.
“The reason I wanted to do this film was probably the fact that it could be, technically, any president, any leader in the world,” says Katawick. “It takes place in America, but it’s a piece of fiction.”
Katawick also portrayed Amos in the stage play in 2019. He recalls the fascinating way in which the audience responded to the story then, particularly how they interpreted who the president was supposed to be in the story. “Everybody assumes they know who we’re talking about,” he says. “If everybody makes the same assumption, then the truth in what that person was doing is there. The way you react to what’s being said tells you how you feel about what that person has done.”
Katawick is a classically trained stage actor who’s performed with Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. In preparation for the role of Amos, he says he did a lot of historical research on past historical regicides and assassins. “I really put myself in that headspace, deciding that this guy knew who he was and he was going to just tell his story,” he says. “He was going to tell the truth, or what he perceived to be his truth.”
He refers to a quote made famous by comedian George Carlin to describe his take on the story: “‘When you’re born in this world, you’re given a ticket to the freak show. And when you’re born in America, you’re given a front row seat.’ I think that’s very true.”
When asked how he hopes viewers respond to Who Is Amos Otis?, Newberry says, “I hope they talk. That’s what I got out of the play. For instance, I got an email from a retired appellate Republican judge that just said, Wow. So I broke through the politics of it and got into the issues we were dealing with. And that was really rewarding to me.”
Find more information about the film here, including the trailer, streaming options, and details about the cast and crew.