The Multiracial Activist
Authenticity Is Not A Buzzword (or White Women Can Be Racist Too)
July 7, 2017
Taking place in the Confederate South, slavery is integral to understanding the dynamics of the era and locale of The Beguiled. Racial and gender dynamics are never separate from one another, but especially not in this setting. Any story that takes place in the Confederate South relies on racial undertones, especially one that centers white Southern Belles.
The invisibility of Black women in Coppola’s revisionist film avoids accountability, because by erasing Hallie, she also erases the violences that Black enslaved women endured from white women and white men alike. She does this both to ease her own discomfort and to ensure that the perceived innocence and victimhood of her white subjects is not disrupted. After all, the film’s tagline is “Innocent. Until betrayed.”
Not only did Coppola scrub an enslaved black woman (a main character) out of the story (relieving the white women of their shared guilt in the perpetuation of slavery), she also turned a biracial character into a white woman. No shit.
After 23 years of interracial marriage and 20 years as the publisher of The Multiracial Activist, I am quite familiar with just how racist some white women can be when they feel there will be no consequences. I won’t tell these stories here and now, but I mention it solely to demonstrate that 2017 is not all sunshine and rainbow children. There is still more than enough hatred and bigotry to go around. Erasing that social dynamic from a story set in the backdrop of the Confederacy goes beyond pandering. It lacks credibility and promotes a mythology we can not afford to endorse.
Coppola defended her whitewashing by saying:
“I feel like you can’t show everyone’s perspective in a story. I was really focused on just this one group of women who were really isolated and weren’t prepared. A lot of slaves had left at that time, so… that emphasized that they were cut off from the world. [Hallie’s] story’s a really interesting story, but it’s a whole other story, so I was really focused on these women.”
The thing she is missing, however, is that race, slavery, and black women’s social status in relation to that of white women was an integral part of the story told in the novel. Mattie was not a minor character in the book or the 1971 movie adaptation, where she was renamed Hallie. Further, the character of Edwina added another layer of complexity to the relationship between white women, free women of color, and enslaved black women. Coppola’s version airbrushed all of that icky context off the screen. If she did not feel equipped to adequately tell the story of Mattie and Edwina, then perhaps she should have considered partnering with a filmmaker who could – or just passed on the project altogether.
Honestly, I will have to pass on this white-washed pandering. No thank you.
Founder and Publisher
The Multiracial Activist
and The Abolitionist Examiner