"If you love hitorical dramas and romantic fantasies, I highly recommend Sally Hemings: An American Scandal. Although I strongly suspect there was a real relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, this story is taken way over the top for entertainment's sake. The entertainment value is certainly there, but it is so strong that one can be easily swept away by it into the realm of belief.
An alleged "historian" once publicly stated that he "wouldn't let history get in the way of a good story." As a fan and writer of fiction, I can understand his statement. However, as a lover of history, I bitterly resent his idiocy.
History, itself, is a great story. But when the need for dramatic presentation leads that story far afield from the facts, it should never, ever be presented as real history.
I absolutely recommend Sally Hemings: An American Scandal as a romantic fantasy with a historical setting. To say that it is more is to do an injustice to both the Jeffersons and the Hemings, who are inadequately represented here."
Aside from the dramatic interracial implications...
Eve Galewitz | Connecticut, USA | 08/20/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"of President Jefferson and his concubine/slave Sally Hemings, there remains a rather usual story of a widower who transfers his well-known affection for his young deceased wife to her equally beautiful sister. Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson were half-sisters and it was said that they looked rather alike. Sally came to Monticello with the marriage of Martha to Thomas Jefferson.
It is easy to point up the hypocrisy of Thomas Jefferson, the author who wrote so eloquently of freedom in the Declaration of Independence while denying to others, but initially Jefferson did seek the end of slavery in the 13 colonies. During the days of the Continental Congress he urged the abolition of slavery as part and parcel of the newly created United States, but was persuaded to drop the cause when the southern states threatened to bolt and withdraw their much needed support in the inevitable clash with the the crown. Following the Revolution Jefferson no longer persued abolitionist ideology
As a person ages, they often become more conservative and careful in their beliefs. This was true of Jefferson. He also held a strong belief in NOT concentrating or centralizing the powers of the government but rather to give the greater authority to each State to govern itself in the newly formed confederation. Although Jefferson's ideas would give way to Madison and the Federalization of the states; many still cling to the idea of decentralized government; the south in particular used this dictum again and again during the civil rights era in order to maintain their segregationist laws.
What can never be known is the true nature of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Jefferson. Sally Hemings was Jefferson's property and with no personal freedom or rights. We know that Jefferson instructed Martha Jefferson Randolph, his daughter by Martha Jefferson, to free Sally & her children upon his death. Many speculate that this was based on his love and affection for this steadfast woman with whom he shared much of his life and by whom he had a number of children. "
A STORY THAT ROCKED THE NATION
Universal Writer | Southern Cali | 07/01/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a genealogist, I collect period movies. This is one of the first movies I ordered. This story is only one of many stories that occurred during the slavery peiod in this country. Because it was Thomas Jefferson - that made it big history. There were several slave owners who not only bed their slaves, some fell in love with them. The acting is excellent and the movie is very relevant. I highly recommend it."
Very poorly executed
E. Musso | Georgetown, DC | 10/03/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I have to give the filmmakers credit for bringing to light a story that, for so long, historians rejected. We now know that Thomas Jefferson did indeed have a 30-year relationship with Sally Hemings, his slave (and wife's half-sister). The dialogue is bad, costuming not particularly accurate, and the actors pretty bad. All that can be overlooked. What is problematic to me is that the story, as presented here, is largely fictional.
First, the actress playing Hemings was entirely too, well, black, to be accurate. Sally Hemings was only 1/4 black and described as being "mighty near white" by Edmund Bacon, Jefferson's overseer. Change her clothes from servant/slave gear and one would likely have assumed she was white. We have no knowledge that Sally Hemings could write, let alone read and the movie has her reading and writing in English and French. Given that Jefferson encouraged education and learning music, we have no reason to assume she could do either. And while we know that she had the opportunity to stay behind in France and be free, there is no indication of the drama between herself, her brother, and Jefferson, nor did they flee paris due to an angry mob attacking his home. There is a disturbing scene in which Jefferson all but rapes Hemings in Paris, something we have zero documentation of (and frankly, would be WAY out of line for Jefferson's character.) Also, as the writers are trying to convince the audience that this is a love/companionate relationship, this is a godawful way to do it. We have no facts that prove that Sally was pregnant when she returned home from France (that story was largely concocted by Thomas Woodson, who claimed to be the long-lost first son of Jefferson and Hemings and has since been proven not to be ) Madison Hemings, in his memoirs, refers to a child that was born about 1790 but did not live. Paris is simply the place historians assume the relationship started because Madison Hemings said so in his memoirs. The entire story about Hemings and the slave Henry she was in love with and supposed to marry was a fabrication, as was the rape/whipping scene in the barn. These are two of my least favorite scenes in the movie because they were written purely to tug at teh viewers heartstrings and not to give them any sort of basis in reality. Finally, Andrews assumes a love relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. None of this is documented anywhere at all. After doing very extensive research on the subject, I personally believe that it was a companionate relationship, but one largely based on Jefferson's odd quirks and beliefs (see Death and Desire at Monticello by Andrew Burnstein).
I am all in favor of historical fiction - but real historical fiction takes the facts and makes a marginally fictionalized account, not just for entertainment value, but to gain the public's interest in the truth. This film has created a piece of fiction using real characters. That's just not the same as historical fiction. It appears that Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (by Fawn Brodie) and Barbara Chase-Riboud's Sally Hemings: A Novel were both read by the writers and they skipped over the academic stuff entirely - a huge mistake.
I have watched this movie several times, in different years, and at different points in my eduation (I'm doing a Master's in American History) and my opinion of the film sinks lower every time I watch it. I support the movie's purpose, but not actual product. So, if you're looking for something entertaining AND accurate, try reading any of Annette Gordon-Wood's books, Death and Desire at Monticello, Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (the sections that relate to slavery), and Joseph Ellis' Thomas Jefferson: The American Sphynx."
Sally Hemings: Excellent Story Told of Love, Betrayal and Op
F. Robbins | 03/08/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie was excellent. It was much better than the version that came out in the early '90's. If you love period films than you will definitely love this historical piece. This is the perfect example of people caught between privilege and oppression. Excellent!!!"