Sofia Coppola appears to still be having a bit of a hard time promoting her movie The Beguiled, a film set in the Civil War South. Fans noticed that while there is a black character—a slave named Hallie—in both the 1966 book the film is based on and a 1971 adaptation of the book, there was no such character in Coppola’s movie.
Coppola has had to answer for this discrepancy time and time again, and in the process has revealed a lack of self awareness (like not knowing what the Bechdel test is). Previously, she has justified cutting Hallie’s character by saying that she didn’t want to show young girls who watch her film that kind of depiction of a black character, and that she’d rather leave the character out than to “brush over” her lightly. It did seem a little fishy, particularly because Coppola set out to recontextualize the white female characters of a 1970s-era, borderline sexploitation film—so it’s not like she was beholden to any specific prior depiction of a black character.
In a more recent interview with the Village Voice, Coppola reiterated her justification for leaving out Hallie, saying, “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.”
Um, Sofia? Hallie is a woman. I get that Coppola is probably really tired of answering for this and that she just wanted to make her damn film and she probably took Hallie out to avoid a backlash and can we please just get back to the white gothic ladies. If anything, her responses seem more like the kind of missteps you take when you’re completely paralyzed by idea of misstepping. But excluding Hallie as a woman once again shows Coppola doesn’t consider black femininity as femininity.
Also, you can absolutely make a Civil War-era movie that isn’t primarily about racial politics, but to make a Civil War era movie completely devoid of racial politics is fantastical nonsense. Or, like, Civil War fanfic. It’s true that, as Ira Madison III pointed out last week, maybe Sofia Coppola—who not only whitewashed The Bling Ring but gave us some great instances of ironic racism in Lost in Translation—refusing to take on Civil War-era racism in any form is for the best. But if you don’t think you can do that, you probably shouldn’t be making movies about the Civil War at all.