Monday, February 19, 2007


This epic adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin takes many liberties with Harriet Beecher Stowe's influential abolitionist novel.

Relatively kind slaveowner, Arthur Shelby, has financial difficulties, so he decides to sell two of his slaves: The child Harry, and old loyal Tom. Eliza, Harry's mother, takes her son and tries to escape north to Ohio. Tom, separated from his family is sold down the river where he is bought by a benevolent master in New Orleans before being auctioned off to the violent Simon Legree.


The novel was a cultural phenomenon. It was the best selling novel of the nineteenth century, and proved to be a flashpoint of the social divisiveness between the American North and South in the lead up to The Civil War. It spawned spoofs, pro-slavery versions, and "Tom Shows" (various staged versions of the novel). Since there was no official stage version, Tom Shows varied greatly from the novel; some even being pro-slavery. The black characters were usually played broadly, and always by white actors in blackface.

Given that this movie was made 75 years after the book, the fact that they cast an actual black actor as Uncle Tom hardly seems progressive considering they used white actors for many of the other black roles. This was often confusing (the mulatto characters were played by white actors without makeup so it was hard to tell who was "supposed" to be black) and sometimes offensive (a blackfaced Mona Ray's over-the-top buffoonery as Topsy was particularly degrading).

For contrast, see Scar of Shame, a 1927 movie made by a black director with a black cast for a black audience.


As influential as the novel may have been in changing America's attitudes toward slavery, it was a book by a white person for white people. As such, the portrayal of black culture, however well-intentioned, was not well-informed. Some of these characterizations have endured through popular media. The "pickaninny" stereotype of black children and the "mammy" character may not be as common today, but the term "Uncle Tom" to negatively characterize a black person who is eager to please white people is still commonly used.

By The Way: D.W. Griffith was originally announced as the director on this film. What were the producers thinking? The guy adapted The Clansman - he must be good at adaptations!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

top [url=]free casino games[/url] check the latest [url=]online casinos[/url] autonomous no deposit hand-out at the best [url=]casino