Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled
How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires.
The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola has given an interview to explain why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original.
“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together… At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.” https://goo.gl/74SgRK
Copolla makes two points in this interview:
* She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
* By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.
This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race.
Hallie (played by Mae Mercer in 1971) is the sole Black woman character in the original story. Her presence alone would disrupt Coppola’s picturesque vision of gender unity. Her existence as a slave is both a reminder of the violence that White women are capable of, and the violence that is to come. She discusses life as a slave and comments about the racism the other characters throw her way.
White women like Coppola ignore two crucial points. First, White women benefited from slavery. Second, White women today continue to benefit from slavery. For example, being in control of a story set in slave times and removing enslaved women is power. It is an example of White supremacy.
Read more on my blog: https://othersociologist.com/2017/06/21/gender-race-power-the-beguiled/
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