There is so much about this movie that I love. There is so much more about it that I hate. What I hate most is that it falls so very short of such a very wonderful book.
Please read BELOVED by Toni Morrison today. Only then can you relate to the sacred place that this book holds in so many hearts. And, only then can you appreciate the great disgust that the film caused in so many hearts.
The acting in this film was superior overall. As always, Kimberly Elise was magical. Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover also gave typically solid performances. The sets and costumes were beautiful and magnificent. The lighting and special effects were first rate. But, nothing is as important to the success of any film as the direction and personality of its central character. Therein lies the eternal curse upon the film “Beloved”.
Thandie Newton is a superior actress. It is legendarily shameful that she was so misdirected in this film. She deserves and is capable of a far better performance.
In the book, Morrison took generations of African female pain and wove them into a haunting tale as multifaceted and complex as a patchwork quilt. Oprah and her crew took that quilt and shredded it into a confusing pile of pretty rags. What was haunting became annoying. What was tragic became comical. What was profound became inane.
In the book, Beloved is the incarnation of a wounded soul on a healing mission. In the film, she is the incarnation of a black female “Beetlejuice” on a crack high.
This is not the first time a classic black literary gem has been destroyed on film. And, it will not be the last.Hollywood’s films routinely destroy the powerful afrocentric realities of authors’ creations.
Recall “Native Son”. Bigger Thomas was a neurotic dunce rather than a tortured victim. Recall “The Color Purple”. Celie and Shug were two freaky friends who engaged in a one-night stand, rather than spiritually connected lovers and eternally soul mated spouses. Recall “X”. Malcolm was more naive local hero than visionary global Pan-Africanist.
Even by comparison to the above Hollywood hatchet jobs, “Beloved” is uniquely flawed. This film may even have been cursed by the bad karma that preceded its making: Actress Akosua Busia penned the original screenplay. Oprah bought it for a paltry fee. Only after a quickly won lawsuit was Oprah forced to return Busia’s name to her screenplay. Perhaps that legal victory can only be viewed as a libelous association with a wretched work now.
Oprah’s artistic amnesia seems to recur in a beautiful coffee table book titled JOURNEY TO BELOVED. This book includes breathtaking photography by Ken Regan. Curiously, it does not include a single reference to Busia.
I wanted to love this film as much I love the book. Unfortunately, that is impossible. They are just too incredibly different in ways that degrade this classic novel as deeply as they destroy this film. And, that saddens me incredibly.