The women of The Beguiled. Image Source.
Sofia Coppola‘s movies are not woke, but do they need to be? This is the question posed by the director in a new essay that addresses the whitewashing criticism that’s been levelled at The Beguiled. In an IndieWire exclusive, Coppola writes about her decision to exclude black characters and depictions of slavery from her American Civil War era film. Her basic argument is this: as a white woman, she doesn’t feel comfortable telling black stories.
Coppola’s adaptation of the 1966 novel by Thomas Cullinan has been criticised for omitting a key black character — an enslaved woman named Mattie — and only referencing the wider context of slavery once with the line: “the slaves left”.
In her response, Sofia explains that her decision to omit these elements of the original novel was a purposeful attempt to avoid cultural appropriation.
“I did not want to perpetuate an objectionable stereotype where facts and history supported my choice of setting the story of these white women in complete isolation, after the slaves had escaped. Moreover, I felt that to treat slavery as a side-plot would be insulting,” she writes.
“There are many examples of how slaves have been appropriated and “given a voice” by white artists. Rather than an act of denial, my decision of not including Mattie in the film comes from respect.”
Coppola also says that her representation of white women living in isolation is historically accurate:
“According to historians and several women’s journals from the time, many slaves had departed, and a great number of white women of the South were left in isolation, holding on to a world whose time had rightly come to an end — a world built on slave labor.”
She goes on to say that, while she understands the film’s critics, she thinks stories of colour should be told by people of colour.
“Some have said that it is not responsible to make a film set during the Civil War and not deal directly with slavery and feature slave characters. I did not think so in preparing this film, but have been thinking about this and will continue to do so. But it has been disheartening to hear my artistic choices, grounded in historical facts, being characterised as insensitive when my intention was the opposite.
I sincerely hope this discussion brings attention to the industry for the need for more films from the voices of filmmakers of colour and to include more points of views and histories.”
Read her essay in its entirety here.
We watched The Beguiled and felt feelings: