“A Sacreligious Piece of Garbage!” and Other Ways Slavery Has Remained a Taboo Subject in Film

*VIEWER DISCRETION!  I TALK ABOUT SOME PRETTY VIOLENT SCENES (BUT THAT’S WHY I’M WRITING THIS)*

I have been anticipating this day I get to write a blog post about slavery since October 9, 2013 when I saw the first episode of Coven (the third season of the acclaimed American Horror Story). This season takes place in modern day New Orleans where two clans of witches, one white (mostly) and one African American, reside in peace (most of the time). Though this is a good connection to the first unit, they make many references to the Salem witch trials, this is not the reason why this season is controversial. In the first episode, we travel back in time to the house (or should I say mansion) of the infamous Delphine LaLaurie. LaLaurie was indeed a slave owner but she did not use them in the way that most whites in the South did. She tortured her salves in the attic of her mansion, in what we can only begin to understand, for pleasure. In the show, we visit the “attic of horrors” and see slaves in cages with severed limbs, mangled faces, some being slowly suffocated to death. (These are the only ones I can say out of worry that Ms. Searcy would not publish this.) When I saw this episode I thought to myself, “Did people really treat their slaves like this?” So I did a little research and to my shock and disbelief, LaLaurie is indeed a REAL historical figure and these descriptions were VERY REAL (to read more about this subject visit: http://jessicajewettonline.com/the-horrors-of-the-lalaurie-mansion). However, people were thrown into an outrage over the graphic scenes saying that it was totally disrespectful. This is not the first time we have seen these responses in the subject of slavery in film.

On Christmas Day (of all days) 2012, a film (that eventually won two Oscars and was nominated for three more, including Best Film), so dark and violent, debuted on the silver screen. This movie was the first of it’s kind in a modern sense. From it’s opening day, viewers were up in arms about the violence and the disrespect of the history of the United States. This film was Django: Unchained (Quentin Tarantino). When I saw it, I personally had no problem with it (except the scene where early members of the Ku Klux Klan argued about the bags they were wearing over their faces. I personally thought it felt out of place with the rest of the serious tone of the movie). People tend to dismiss any movie about any touchy subject. Take the very low number of LGBT movies shown in theaters (some of those movies are excellent pieces of cinema, but because of it’s nature, it is hardy recognized. Come to think of it, many of the best movies I have seen are from independent producers because none of the “Big Names” will take them because the subjects they focus on would cause a controversy. I think this is the reason WHY they are so great: because they are controversial. I can go on about this subject but this is for a different blog post).

The most recent production of slavery-based film was Twelve Years a Slave (Steve McQueen). Many people were disturbed by it’s graphic nature and again were very upset that a film of this sort would be made. When I saw it (by the way it is an EXCELLENT movie, I would recommend it to anybody but be prepared for some gruesome scenes and Benedict Cumberbatch slipping in and out of a Southern accent) I felt like I needed to walk out of the theater are some points. Not because I was upset at the film (even though Northup being a prominent member of his white community is historically inaccurate) and the way slavery was portrayed, but because I was upset that none of this was made up. This was all in the memoir by Solomon Northup when he was describing how he was kidnapped from the North and forced to be a slave for twelve years of his life. One scene that really hit me was when Solomon, was forced to whip a fellow slave by the master who could bear to do it himself, which he eventually did.

Since the subject of slavery is made so taboo in our culture, people tend to dismiss anything on the subject, Because of this, those same people who choose to ignore the subject are are same ones who criticize the films that want to educate them on the subject. I believe people dislike these pieces of media because they believe it is all exaggerated. But, they forget THIS WAS ALL REAL. This horrific events in history ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

YES Delphine LaLaurie was a real person who tortured her slaves in unspeakable ways.

YES slaves were forced to fight each other like dogs for entertainment.

YES a favored slave girl would rather die than spend one more day in her master’s “good graces” and be tortured, physically and psychologically, by the jealous mistress of the house (side note: this mistress is Sarah Paulson who is also in Coven).

This is why I am grateful to be in APUSH and be able to write blog posts like this. It allows me to dig deeper in these types of media and get a better understanding of what is going on and not ending up being the person who chooses to turn their head away from the reality of our history being shoved in our face.

This blog post is basically a response to this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zeba-blay/american-horror-story-coven_b_4134149.html (This article uses some strong language and also gives descriptions of certain scenes. But, it did want me to say something about their opinions. Not that I disagree with them, well some of them. I just wanted to make a point. And since it inspired this blog post I have to give credit where credit is due). In case you feel uncomfortable reading the article above, here is a less explicit one that also gives some peoples’ (cringe worthy) direct opinions: http://xfinity.comcast.net/blogs/tv/2013/10/09/cant-stop-watching-thoughts-on-hollywood-slavery-chiwetel-ejiofor-why-ahs-covern-premiere-is-awesome-more/

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2 thoughts on ““A Sacreligious Piece of Garbage!” and Other Ways Slavery Has Remained a Taboo Subject in Film

  1. This post was great! It was interesting and even though about history, made it very modern and made me want to read on. I personally have not been able to watch Django or Twelve Years A Slave (can’t handle that much gore) but I completely agree with you on the fact that people have to face controversial things whether they like it or not. I’m glad that you talked about how stuff like this actually happened although people may not want to believe it or want to see it on screen. History isn’t always pretty, and I really liked your post!

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