In this interview with 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, Steven Colbert finds a way to both playfully diffuse and explore Lost Cause themes related to slavery. At the beginning of the interview he comments, “I’ve heard the move makes slavery look really bad.” Later after sharing that he is from South Carolina Colbert admits to having learned that “I grew up hearing that some slaves enjoyed…the job security…” The audience laughs in response, but they do so unaware of the fact that there are plenty of people who still subscribe to the Lost Cause belief that slavery was benign.
While I suspect that Colbert is consciously referencing the impact of the Lost Cause on how Americans remember slavery, what is hard to determine is whether McQueen picks up on it. One gets the sense that he simply views Colbert’s comments as outrageous.
Interestingly, I have not heard anyone from the Southern Heritage crowd complain about the depiction of slavery in this movie. Perhaps the movie is still in limited release or there is a unwillingness to challenge a film that is so closely based on a slave narrative.
… 12 Years A Slave earlier tonight. I am still feeling numb and will need to take some time to process my thoughts. I will say that the movie – unlike anything I’ve seen before – captures the violence and brutality of the master – slave relationship as well as some of the more subtle and complex aspects of the slave system. The movie’s depiction of white and black women stands front and center in reference to the latter. Go see it.
The past few decades have witnessed an outpouring of Civil War scholarship and more popular studies about slavery, emancipation, and in particular, the history of African American soldiers. As we make our way through the Civil War Sesquicentennial, this scholarship continues to shape and inspire a wide range of commemorative events that highlight the history of these soldiers and the contributions they made to preserving the Union and ending slavery in 1865. Indeed, the history of these men has been front and center during the Civil War 150th, which stands in sharp contrast with the Centennial celebrations of the early 1960s. Much of what we’ve seen over the past few years has been framed around a collective sense that, as a nation, we have a moral responsibility to remember and properly commemorate an aspect of our Civil War history that has been ignored for far too long, minimized, and in some cases, intentionally distorted.
For many scholars and journalists, the idea of a persistent and powerful role for the Lost Cause extends beyond the 1960s; they claim to find in the contemporary South a widespread and deep commitment to the Lost Cause or see various examples of the white South still fighting the Civil War. The continuing battle over the Confederate flag and other Confederate symbols would seem to support such views, although the flag fights may be even more immediately shaped by matters of race than the Lost Cause celebrations of the late nineteenth century. Continue reading →
The African American in antebellum times was, as the stereotype held, reliable, faithful, hardworking, malleable. Indeed, one entrusted one’s children, one’s property to such people. Now, of a sudden, the African American becomes demonized, a threat, a lascivious beast roaming the countryside of the South, people loosed by the end of slavery and now upon us like locusts. Well, this was an absurdity. — David Levering Lewis