Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Beguiled: The White-washing Issue


The Beguiled is opening this weekend and while it looks enticing, and I plan on seeing it, with the film's opening comes the public outcry of another case of whitewashing. 


The Beguiled is based on the 1966 book by Thomas Cullinan, originally titled The Painted Devil.

The Beguiled—a gothic thriller set in the antebellum south—is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film about a Civil War deserter taken in by a school marm & her few remaining students. In the remake Colin Farrell takes on Eastwood's role with Nicole Kidman as the headmistress, Kirsten Dunst as a sheltered young teacher, and Elle Fanning as a young girl coming of age. 



Stuck in a broken down school, all the females are thrown into a flutter at the sight of the sexy Farrell. The air is filled with flying hormones. You can approve or disapprove of the old trope of women backstabbing and sneaking around behind each others backs in order to get a man's attention, the much desired male gaze (which is perhaps not that antiquated, I hear The Bachelor can get a trifle competitive) but the main problem the movie's critics have with the film isn't what's on the screen but what's not. The problem stems from writer/director Sofia Coppola making a movie set in the deep South in the Civil War era without any black people in it. Huh? How do you make a film about white southerners without showing the slaves who helped them maintain their southern charm? 

Coppola has been particularly criticized because she removed a black character that did appear in the original, a slave named Hallie who we see here shaving John Burney. 



Hallie, played by Mae Mercer, isn't just any old slave. As you can see, she's gorgeous. Judging from this still, all the sexual tension crackling in that house, crackled between these two as well. 


Why did Sofia Coppola remove her? 

Coppola explained her point of view to BuzzFeed—
“I didn’t want to brush over such an important topic in a light way. Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them. I was clear about my decision—because I want to be respectful to that history.”
Ira Madison III offers a defense of sorts in the Daily Beast: 


In the ’60s and ’70s, it was standard to stick a token black character into a narrative to show the “pains” of slavery or being a black person in America. This hardly ever worked and most depictions, like 1971’s The Beguiled, are incredibly offensive in a modern context. Today, with films such as 12 Years a Slave and series like Underground, we’ve gotten three-dimensional, harsh, and humanizing portrayals of black women and men in bondage. But in a film about a Union soldier who terrorizes the young girls of an academy, that type of portrayal would be more than out of place—it would be horrific. There’s an odd irony in demanding the inclusion of a slave in a dream-like narrative while also wanting Hollywood to produce more accurate, savagely cruel depictions of slavery. For Coppola, it’s a catch-22. She’s damned if she includes a slave character and produces a demeaning portrayal of a black woman, but she’s damned if she decides to excise that character altogether as well.
Madison goes on to make the most important point. White men and white women don't tell the best stories about people of color. How could they? Whitewashing will stop when Hollywood gives diverse voices a chance—a real chance—of telling those stories themselves.
Gone are the days when we needed a Steven Spielberg to make a film like The Color Purple or a George Lucas to back Red Tails. We should demand that studios and producers give those opportunities to black filmmakers instead of looking for meager scraps from white people who don’t fully grasp our stories and will portray them horribly. 
So for now, we have Coppola making a female-centric story, one in which the females are white. I honestly don't know how I feel about it, whether Coppola could have included Hallie's character in an authentic manner without history washing! Hallie's role would be horrible, because the world treated black people horribly. That's historically accurate, whether we want to look at it or not. I do know I'm pleased to see a movie helmed by a woman featuring a strong female cast. Coppola's explanation makes a fair amount of sense to me. What do you think?

The AP just released this short video interview with the director and Nicole Kidman talking about the film and the female gaze. Whitewashing doesn't come up. 




6 comments:

  1. People need to go back and actually view the original. Hallie is a seminal character. Re-making "The Beguiled" with the slave maid/cook Hallie is like Francis Ford Coppola re-making "The Godfather"—only without the Godafather.
    Check out this crucial scene near end of the 1971 version:
    You're wrong to blame her, Mr. Johnny.
    Your leg was busted bad.
    You don't have to be afraid
    of being sent to prison now.
    Why don't you just
    leave this place?
    Not till I've had my fill.
    You're a damn handsome woman, Hallie.
    Maybe I'll just start with you.
    Go on down the cellar. I've been
    having a run of bad luck lately.
    I understand the way to fix
    this is to have a black woman.
    Then, white boy,
    you better like it with
    a dead black woman.
    Because that's the only way
    you'll get it from this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oops, that's "withOUT the slave maid cook Hallie..."

      Delete
    2. Hey there. You're 100% right about Hallie. I watched the original after writing this post, I should have gone back and amended it. Hallie was stunning, strong, fierce. Brave enough to stand up to Eastwood's bullshit. I would have loved to see her in Coppola's movie, and having seen the way race was handled, I'm not sure why Coppola didn't. I'm recommending everyone who sees her Beguiled watches the Don Siegel version as well. I'm trying to work up the energy to write a post about the two films and the ways the differ and also intersect. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, appreciate it. Come back anytime, anonymous:)

      Delete
    3. Agree. Coppola's version has three wheels. It's a shame the whole Hallie issue was avoided, but it's a trend in Hollywood today to tread too lightly. I'm curious as to what will happen at the Oscars should her version get a nomination.

      Delete
  2. BTW, reading the "books of the movies" for the first time this summer. "The Godfather," IMHO, is just not up to snuff (three chapters on Johnny Fontaine). Just plain poorly written. "The Exorcist," on the other hand, is excellent. It's actually very literary. The writing is crisp and fast. The character of Chris MacNeil is riveting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's true that some pretty lousy books have made some great movies, and vice versa.

      Delete

I love that you're leaving a comment! Thanks.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...