Here’s the latest page from the “History” (i.e., History Channel) website: an online marketplace for their programs. All about the channel’s latest made-for-TV movie, a remake of the great 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde. There are thus several “filters” or contexts here: “history” as memorabilia and souvenirs (clothing, coffee mugs, fake cash in a bank bag); “history” that’s not really history at all, but rather popular mythology; history as memory, but not the “real” memory of real characters, but rather the memory of a legendary Hollywood production; history focused on sex and violence and the glorification of criminals (as in the Prohibition exhibit); and on and on. The layers here are amazingly rich– all in this one web page.
A provocative panel discussion on the new movie, Twelve Years a Slave— part of a wave of recent films dealing with slavery and its legacy.
“I think this movie is much more real, to choose a word like that, than most of the history you see in the cinema. It gets you into the real world of slavery. That’s not easy to do. Also, there are little touches that are very revealing, like a flashback where a slave walks into a shop in Saratoga. Yes, absolutely, Southerners brought slaves into New York State. People went on vacation, and they brought a slave.”
A sweeping, thoughtful article on race and racism as reflected in American movies from Birth of a Nation to Django Unchained and the new 12 Years a Slave:
Such stories, of course, do not stay told. The moral, economic and human realities of slavery — to keep the narrative there for a moment — have a way of getting buried and swept aside. For a long time this was because, at the movies as in the political and scholarly mainstream, slavery was something of a dead letter, an inconvenient detail in a narrative of national triumph, a sin that had been expiated in the blood of Northern and Southern whites.
D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” may look now like a work of reactionary racism, but it is very much an artifact of the Progressive Era, embraced by President Woodrow Wilson and consistent with what were then understood to be liberal ideas about destiny and character of the American republic. In Griffith’s film (adapted from “The Clansman,” a best-selling novel by Thomas Dixon), the great crime of slavery had been its divisive and corrupting effect on whites. After Reconstruction, the nation was re-founded on the twin pillars of abolition and white supremacy.