Personally, I don’t think Sofia Coppola’s promotional tour for The Beguiled has gone well at all. She comes across as out-of-touch pretty consistently in every interview, whether she’s shrugging off questions about the Bechdel Test, or trying to explain why she edited out the one African-American character in The Beguiled. To recap, the original book has a former-slave character named Hallie. Hallie is “left behind” in the midst of war, just like the white Southern belles on this plantation. Hallie is tasked with caring for the wounded Union soldier, and Hattie is part of the sexual and political dynamics within the story.
Sofia completely cut Hattie out, explaining to Buzzfeed that she did so because she didn’t want to “brush over” the topic of slavery, and “Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them” (so she prefers to show those little girls whitewashed films?) and the story she wanted to tell was about “the power dynamics between men and women that are universal.” Meaning, only stories about white men and white women get to be universal. Well, the topic came up again during Sofia’s Village Voice interview. Here’s the relevant part:
The Village Voice: You’ve been criticized for cutting out the slave character.
Coppola: The slave character was written in a really stereotypical way, and I didn’t want to make a movie about racial politics in the Civil War. So I decided just to focus on the women. When I went through the book I focused on the characters and sections I wanted to know more about and that I connected to. I left out the incest story, for example. I was very thoughtful about what I was going to include and not include. The process of adapting a book requires a lot of focus and thought on what you feel is at the core of the story you want to tell.
The Village Voice: Some might say that by avoiding the character entirely, you’re helping to erase that aspect of history.
Coppola: I thought it would be worse to make the stereotypical character and then not treat that story with respect, to just brush over it lightly. It’s too important. It’s another movie. I’m also trying to focus on the story about this group of women and this man. So to have a little side character I think would be disrespectful to that story….I thought a lot about it. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’ll just snip that part out.” I just thought to do it in a light way without giving it respect would not be the right thing to do.
The same arguments as before, only somehow worse. “So I decided just to focus on the women.” Hattie IS one of the women in the source material. Hattie is just as much a part of sexual dynamics and interplay as the white characters. Sofia couldn’t see past a character’s race to even acknowledge that Hattie IS A WOMAN TOO. “I thought it would be worse to make the stereotypical character and then not treat that story with respect, to just brush over it lightly.” I don’t get how those were seriously her only options? Include Hattie and make her a stereotype versus erase her from the story. It feels like there’s a hidden option C.
Incidentally, I would recommend that everyone read Ira Madison’s hilariously shady piece on Coppola’s whitewashed movie – go here for the piece at the Daily Beast. Some of my favorite quotes: “But there’s also a lot to be said about a white woman who stays in her lane” and “Coppola has been our foremost raconteuse of Caucasian stories.” It’s a great piece and it reads as both a defense of Coppola and an excellent takedown.
Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy of The Village Voice.