Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, her latest work based on the 1966 Thomas Cullinan novel, came under fire by some who criticized the indie film for excluding the slave character Mattie (named Hallie in the 1971 movie adaptation). Having previously discussed the matter with BuzzFeed News, the filmmaker has now penned a lengthy response, which was published on Saturday by IndieWire.
Coppola explained how her film is set in the South during a time in the Civil War when the men had already gone off to fight and many slaves had left. “I wanted to tell the story of the isolation of these women, cut off from the world and in denial of a changing world,” she wrote. “I also focused on how they deal with repression and desire when a man comes in to their abandoned world, and how this situation affects each of them, being at different stages of their life and development. I thought there were universal themes, about desire and male and female power dynamics that could relate to all women.”
She added, “The circumstances in which the women in my story find themselves are historically accurate—and not a distortion of history, as some have claimed.”
The Beguiled stars Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, and Colin Farrell in a story about sheltered women in a Southern girls’ boarding school who take in an injured enemy soldier during the Civil War.
In terms of Mattie, Coppola clarified, “I did not want to perpetuate an objectionable stereotype where facts and history supported my choice of setting the story of these white women in complete isolation, after the slaves had escaped. Moreover, I felt that to treat slavery as a side-plot would be insulting. There are many examples of how slaves have been appropriated and ‘given a voice’ by white artists. Rather than an act of denial, my decision of not including Mattie in the film comes from respect.”
Some also called it irresponsible to set a film during the Civil War and not directly address slavery, and the director promised she “will continue” to think on the matter. “But it has been disheartening to hear my artistic choices, grounded in historical facts, being characterized as insensitive when my intention was the opposite,” she concluded. “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.”
The Beguiled is now playing in theaters. Read Coppola’s full response on IndieWire.