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Sofia Coppola Writes a Thoughtful Response to Her Critics

There is a lot of change happening right now in how we discuss film online. Where the discussion was mostly limited to those who cover film, and who used to be mostly white, there has been a perspective shift as more writers of color let their voices and their point of view be known and added into the mix. It is no longer the terrain of only white critics and white stories – and white critics being allowed to say what is important and what isn’t.

At the same time, there is also a kind of hive mind hysteria taking place. There is no denying it. Humans when grouped together do this. Whether it’s calling someone a racist or a rapist or pinning them down for something people think was offensive but was accidental – there seems to be a daily hunt for the impure so that they may be exiled from the village to keep the village pure and righteous. Once tagged as a racist it can be hard to dig out from that. There is a way the hive mind has of ejecting people. One points and everyone else points. I know, it’s been done to me and it is a bizarre feeling to have a bunch of people pointing at you the way they might have in Salem, WITCH! WITCH! And everyone starts screaming and pointing and you must flee the village. Even as I write this I can see people saying THIS is racist. But in fact, it isn’t always race – it is across the board in terms of what people are accused of being. It doesn’t even really matter – the hunt is on to expose them as impure politically. In whatever form that takes.

In other words, there isn’t a lot of room for nuance of thought where the hive mind is concerned. Sofia Coppola was put to the test recently with The Beguiled, which is a story about the antebellum south that doesn’t include the story of slavery. One of the problems with the discussion is that people haven’t seen the film and make assumptions about it. And those assumptions are: typical Hollywood, only caring about white people. And to an extent, that’s a fair criticism. Hollywood has always been about white people who only care about white people selling stories about white people to everyone and expecting everyone to be invested in those stories. When it came to La La Land last year, and even this discussion, I think it’s fair to allow those opinions to be heard because every time they are heard, I believe, we (whites) edge a little closer to a shared perspective. In other words, just imagine growing up black in America and having every princess story released in movies about white princesses, as an example.

But take a look at the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow movie, Detroit. There is already some criticism about her being white making a movie with black characters in it. Both directors, who are female pioneers, are going to be criticized for either not telling the story of black characters or telling the story of black characters. Since I don’t know what the answer is I find I’m trying more to listen rather than tell people what they should think. But I remember that Steven Spielberg took a lot of heat for making The Color Purple from both the white and the black community. I also know that the criticisms led to decades of films by white directors with no black characters in them. Finally, now, it seems like there is a little more power behind black storytellers and, as far as I can tell, things are changing little by little.

At any rate, Sofia Coppola wrote a thoughtful response to the idea that she casually dumped the black character in The Beguiled — she says she was trying to tell what was historically accurate. And while it’s true that filmmakers in Hollywood seem to have gotten it yet that they are entering sensitive territory when going anywhere near slavery or civil rights, her intentions were not malicious:

Some have said that it is not responsible to make a film set during the Civil War and not deal directly with slavery and feature slave characters. I did not think so in preparing this film, but have been thinking about this and will continue to do so. But it has been disheartening to hear my artistic choices, grounded in historical facts, being characterized as insensitive when my intention was the opposite.

I sincerely hope this discussion brings attention to the industry for the need for more films from the voices of filmmakers of color and to include more points of views and histories.

I can understand criticizing the film, and her choices, but the mass hysteria, finger pointing and banishment? I certainly can’t tell people not to react but the hive mind is bizarre all the way around, no matter what the conversation is about. I do know that much.