Sofia Coppola has responded to backlash against the way her film “The Beguiled” has eliminated slavery in the Civil War-era South.
In a column published at Indiewire, the filmmaker explained her decision to remove the character of Mattie, a slave woman, from her adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel (the character was named Hallie in the 1971 film adaptation starring Clint Eastwood).
Coppola’s film stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning as the last few residents of a run-down Southern girls’ school whose lives are turned upside down when they take in an injured Union soldier (Colin Farrell).
Some of Coppola’s critics viewed the erasure of slavery from her film as an attempt to overlook the difficult parts of history. However, in her column, Coppola says the historical record supports the idea that “a great number” of white women were left in isolation after slaves fled the South during the war.
“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 wrote.
“There are many examples of how slaves have been appropriated and ‘given a voice’ by white artists,” she continued. “Rather than an act of denial, my decision of not including Mattie in the film comes from respect.”
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Coppola called on the film industry to give more opportunities to filmmakers of other backgrounds who may be more suited to tell other kinds of stories and histories.
“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,” Coppola wrote. “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 characterized as insensitive when my intention was the opposite.”