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Race Controversy of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 23, 2017 12:59 pm    Post subject: Race Controversy of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’ Reply with quote

The Race Controversy of Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Beguiled’
BY Ira Madison III
The thriller, set in the Antebellum South, has come under fire for its lack of black characters—including removing a slave who featured in the original. Is the backlash warranted?

Pretty women are a wonder to Sofia Coppola. Sitting in the window. Standing on a stair. At their mirrors. In their gardens. Letter-writing. Everything about the interior lives of women, particularly white women, has fascinated Coppola since 1999’s The Virgin Suicides. Her obsession with their coming of age, their sexual awakenings, their response to the cruel world around them is often admirable in a film landscape dominated by male auteurs. But this year, Coppola’s esoteric interests led to The Beguiled, a remake of 1971’s Civil War-era film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page. Whereas Coppola’s interest in all things white women went mostly unnoticed before, it was a subject she could not dodge this year as she set out to promote a film set during the Civil War with nary a black person in it.

But is it fair to criticize Coppola for excluding slavery from this narrative? If anything, Coppola is guiltier of self-preservation than cultural erasure.

Set in the waning days of the Confederacy, The Beguiled takes place at the Martha Farnsworth Seminary, an all-girls school where only five students remain—including Elle Fanning, as well as instructors Kirsten Dunst and Nicole Kidman. It begins almost like a Tennessee Williams play, with Kidman’s Miss Martha attempting to reclaim her glory days as a Southern belle while tending to the wounds of Colin Farrell’s John McBurney, a Union soldier who’s deserted the battlefields of Virginia. The sudden presence of a man whips women young and older into a sexual frenzy, igniting a fire in each of them that they’ve long kept doused as women of high society.

It’s the setting for a taut chamber piece that boils over into a semi-gory thriller, but all of that’s been lost in the controversy surrounding the film. Coppola has drawn ire for removing a black woman from her film, a slave named Hallie who tended to Eastwood’s wounds in the 1971 version.

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