Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'House Divided' Breaks Down Realities of Race

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'House Divided' Breaks Down Realities of Race

Article excerpt

This television season has been dominated by a discussion of two issues - reality and race. Showtime's "A House Divided" has both. The film (Sunday, July 30, 8-10 p.m.) is based on the true story of Amanda America Dickson, offspring of a slave and a white plantation owner who is raised as a white child and inherits the largest farm in a small Georgia community upon the death of her father. It is based on the book, "Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson," by Kent Anderson Leslie.

Coming as it does on the heels of a season which saw much discussion about the long-term but scantily documented relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings, the Showtime feature, based on trial transcripts and historical records, offers a far more realistic assessment of a liaison between a slave and her owner.

"What was this combination that made it possible for this white man to think it was OK to rape a slave, raise the child as his own, keep the mother in the house as a slave, keep the secret from the child and then, discovering that the mother had wonderful abilities and talents, use them to the extent that she was basically running the plantation for him?" asks star Sam Waterston, who plays the wealthy plantation owner, David Dickson.

Also one of the film's producers, Mr. Waterston says they felt it was critical to emphasize that although Amanda's mother stayed on the farm for some four decades, long past the end of slavery, the relationship began as a rape. He says that the plantation was at the height of its success when Julia Dickson worked it alongside the owner. Despite her help, there is no indication Dickson was able to come to terms with his abuse of power.

"It's one of those situations where this guy gets as far as his brain can carry him, given his prejudices, and then he just stops in bewilderment because the woman that he's talking to has a kind of moral certainty about her that he can't get around, but he can't digest. You know, the wrongness of himself is too much for him to compute. …

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