White female innocence is predicated upon violence against Black women in which white women are complicit–that is why Sofia Coppola erased a crucial character.
By Sherronda J. Brown
This essay contains spoilers and includes discussion of sexual violence.
Sofia Coppola’s newest film and remake of The Beguiled sets itself apart from both the 1966 novel and the 1971 original film adaptation in terms of style and tenor, but carries the same themes of solitude and fear. Most significantly, it brazenly disrespects its original source material and the history that it drew from by removing an enslaved Black woman, Hallie, from a narrative about women in the Confederate South during the Civil War.
Her reasoning for this erasure is less than convincing, citing a desire to “respect [the] history” and to spare young girls the image of a Black woman in such a degrading position on-screen. However, when looking at the original story, the vision of a resilient and assertive Hallie becomes clear. She has unapologetic disdain for whiteness and refuses a passive victimhood. Sofia Coppola deliberately chose not to show this – not to save us or Hallie from indignity – but to ease her own discomfort around the white subjects of her “girl power” western drama being slave-owning enactors of violent white supremacy. Her version of the tale relies on white female innocence, but white female innocence is predicated upon violence against Black women, in which white women are complicit.
The Keeping Room, a 2014 film directed by Daniel Barber and written by Julia Hart, tells a story that is closely related to that of The Beguiled, but far more engrossing and compelling. While it isn't perfect, it gives us an enslaved woman whose character is fully visible in a similarly “revisionist western” that is not ahistorical and, frankly, has better writing, better direction, and better performances.