Don't let the fact that it first aired on the Disney Channel throw you: Nightjohn is a tough and touching drama that benefits greatly from the restrained presence of acclaimed director Charles Burnett (To Sleep With Anger). The title character is a slave who secretly teaches a young fellow slave to read and write—a severely punishable offense. Without being preachy, Nightjohn presents a complex and brutal depiction of slavery as an institution humiliating to both slave and master, and manages to convey the subversive potential of knowledge. Although the tone and pacing occasionally betray its origins as a TV movie, Nightjohn transcends those limitations. Smart, memorable and well worth seeing, Nightjohn is the sort of film that often gets undeservedly overlooked.