Coronet Instructional Films on the Plantation System (1950)
Here is a film produced by Coronet on the history and continued relevance of the plantation system to Southern society as interpreted in 1950. What I found so striking about it was the absence of paternalism and an emphasis on the economics of the plantation/slave system – no doubt partly shaped by Thomas Barton, Professor of Geography at Indiana University. According to the film the plantation system included two distinct classes of people who contributed to what is considered to be the basic economic unit of the South. The plantation owners and family constituted an aristocratic class that was defined by gentility and sophistication while the "laboring class" posessed few "privileges." The second part of the film explores the legacy of the plantation system. In doing so the film emphasizes the continued importance of the land in shaping society. Emancipation and the end of slavery are acknowledged, but no attempt is made to explore its meaning for this laboring class. Instead we are to understand the postwar South as involving a new relationship between landlord and tenant along with the technological changes that increased productivity for the benefit of all.
These films are perfect for the classroom as they tell us a great deal about how we choose to represent the past at different times. Ask students to think about why critical aspects of race and the realities of slavery have been left out.