I saw the original, Clint Eastwood-led version of The Beguiled many years ago. I remember the basic gist of the story, and I mostly remember young, attractive Clint Eastwood. I didn’t really remember that there was a “slave” character named Hallie, played by actress Mae Mercer. Hallie is tasked with taking care of the wounded Union soldier and she becomes part of tangled sexual and racial politics at the heart of the story as well. Considering the book/story takes place against the backdrop of the (ongoing) Civil War, it made sense to have a slave character, a woman, who was seemingly left behind during the war, just as these white Southern belles were left behind too. Except that in Sofia Coppola’s new version of The Beguiled, Coppola has completely edited out the Hallie character in favor of just telling the stories of the white women. Huh. Obviously, Sofia’s choice has been met with some criticism. Coppola spoke to Buzzfeed about the absence of the Hallie character and more:
The story of the isolation of these white women: “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.”
Shooting the film in New Orleans, surrounded by Trump signs: “The election happened while we were filming, so that was really a mess,” the filmmaker said. The 2016 presidential campaign brought issues of sexism and racism to a fever pitch of constant discussion. “When I started working on the script, it was a couple of years ago, and I was just interested in the power dynamics. And then when we were filming and that was going on, it definitely resonated.”
The debate about Confederate monuments: The filmmaker said she “wasn’t really looking at the political aspects” of the Confederacy as she was writing and directing The Beguiled. “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.”
Editing out the Hallie character: “I didn’t want to brush over such an important topic in a light way,” Coppola told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement of her decision to not include the character. “Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them.” It’s a storytelling choice many on social media have criticized. “Of course I understand that that would be brought up,” Coppola said in her interview with BuzzFeed News. “I was clear about my decision — because I want to be respectful to that history.”
Whether including Hallie would have offered a more racially nuanced view of the story: “I feel like you can’t show everyone’s perspective in a story. I was really focused on just this one group of women who were really isolated and weren’t prepared. A lot of slaves had left at that time, so they were really— that emphasized that they were cut off from the world. [Hallie’s] story’s a really interesting story, but it’s a whole other story, so I was really focused on these women.”
She’s open to doing films with non-white actors: “I would love to have a more racially diverse cast whenever I can. It didn’t work for this story, but of course I’m very open to stories about many different experiences and points of view.”
Yeah, her filmography doesn’t suggest that she’s a filmmaker open to racial diversity. I understand her argument that she can’t do everything and tell every story and she already stands out from other directors because she has a history of making films which focus on the female characters. That being said, Coppola is being too cute by half on some things. She made a conscious choice to edit out the one non-white character, even if the character was significant in the source material and the first film. She says she didn’t want to “brush over” the topic of slavery… as if that was her only choice? Like, include the character and brush over her, or completely whitewash the story, and Coppola made her choice. I guess it never occurred to her that she could include the character and offer a nuanced view of black womanhood at that time, and have that story alongside the stories of the white women. Basically, only white women’s experiences get to be “universal,” at least according to Coppola.
Also too cute by half? She says she was interested in the “power dynamics” yet she wasn’t looking at “the political aspects” of the Confederacy. THAT IS THE SAME THING. Sexual power plays are political. Femininity is political. The story is about a Union soldier in the South. It is political. Buzzfeed did a companion analysis/review of Coppola’s film which is worth a read too, and the author criticizes Coppola.
Photos courtesy of WENN.