IN 1853 at Pepperwick, the largest rice plantation in South Carolina, all of the slaves, field hands and house servants, are called out to watch. Storyteller Old George, whose tales remind them of their lives before captivity, is caged and buried in wood chips up to his neck.
Fifteen-year-old Mozay, the educated slave companion and servant to Clarence Little, the rice planter's son, stands with the other boys. With only a look from Old George, Mozay receives a mystical message:
YOU ARE WORTHY OF FREEDOM AND SO ARE ALL.
At that moment he makes up his mind to escape and in freedom to teach others to read and write. The cage is set on fire.
But Mozay is more daydreamer than doer. And when he does take action, he's impulsive and hasn't thought things through. The only educated black boy at Pepperwick he has no friends to share ideas with and receives no encouragement from peers to pursue a future outside the plantation. With no one to support him, egg him on to pursue his escape plan, a year passes before he acts on the emotional charge transmitted by the storyteller.
When French business woman Sarah Manét comes to visit Pepperwick he senses that she and enslaved head butler House Winslow know each other. Intrigued by this connection between a white woman and a black man he's confused and fearful when the two hint that they may help him, provided he can carry out a difficult task. Will he be able to accomplish their assignment and leave Pepperwick forever?
Accompanying the Little family on their annual trek into Charleston from the coastal town of Pepperwick, he meets Nathaniel, a freed blacksmith. Eager to befriend another black man who reads, Mozay relishes their conversations until Nathaniel challenges him to make good on his often talked about escape. Wanting to support his friend and push him towards action Nathaniel introduces Mozay to friends who may help him. With backing from Sarah Manét, House Winslow and Nathaniel's friends there's a clear possibility that his escape will succeed but only if he can overcome his analysis/paralysis behavior and go forward— without knowing all the answers in advance.