The Legend of Tarzan and Free State of Jones movies review: enough with the white saviors

Get new reviews in your email in-box or in an app by becoming a paid Substack subscriber or Patreon patron.

The Legend of Tarzan and Free State of Jones red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Filtering other people’s stories through the eyes of white men is tedious and offensive, and it feels like a desperate hedge against fresh perspectives.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
share and enjoy
             
If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
If you haven’t commented here before, your first comment will be held for MaryAnn’s approval. This is an anti-spam, anti-troll, anti-abuse measure. If your comment is not spam, trollish, or abusive, it will be approved, and all your future comments will post immediately. (Further comments may still be deleted if spammy, trollish, or abusive, and continued such behavior will get your account deleted and banned.)
subscribe
notify of
30 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
view all comments
RogerBW
RogerBW
Mon, Aug 01, 2016 5:36pm

I suppose one advantage of using the Belgian Congo is that even the colonial apologists won’t defend what the Belgians got up to there.

I couldn’t care less about Tarzan (he’s about as relevant to me as the Lone Ranger, and similarly a near-forgotten part of the pop-cultural ambience of my childhood) but I had hopes for Jones. Oh well.

Aslan
Aslan
Mon, Aug 01, 2016 11:01pm

Gary Ross made a mistake by trying to reduce Newt Knight’s activities into a 2 hour movie. A mini-series would have been insufficient to cover the whole of his long life as an activist.

I must correct the author of this article in her insinuations that Ross somehow exaggerated Knight’s accomplishments. On the contrary, he diminished them, particularly as regards his work during Reconstruction.

Republican Gov. Adalbert Ames appointed Knight (as a battle-tested soldier) to head an otherwise all-black regiment which fought against the incipient KKK and protected voting rights of freedmen. Knight also was charged by Ames with leading raids against plantations which were maintaining children in slavery through the apprenticeship “laws”.

Ross, in fact, diminished the importance of Knight’s activities – probably to avoid the dreaded ‘white savior’ label. Knight actually was a white savior and a man who, unlike his ally Jasper Collins, was unable to pursue a career in politics because of his relationship with his common-law wife Rachel, a former slave.

Read Prof. Bynum’s “Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War”.

The author of this article must live in some country where all things are politically correct, history has been carefully revised to excise all the evil and Donald Trump, who is openly racist, is not running for President. The State of Mississippi still incorporates the Confederate flag in its state flag. The DNC removed it from the Convention. There exists a widespread, accepted theory on the Civil War – promoted by racist politicians in the South – called the “Lost Cause”: the Civil War was about states rights, not slavery. The North invaded the South and all Southerners (rich planters and poor yeoman farmers) were united in their devotion to the cause.

The story of Newt Knight and Jasper Collins (who got short shrift in the movie) is the story of what really happened in the South during the Civil War – the poor being manipulated by the rich planters in defense of their wealth (=slaves). Knight led a class rebellion which crossed racial and gender lines. Women fought as hard as men against the Confederacy.

Free State of Jones is the first film ever to examine Southern Unionists. There were numerous rebellions in the South against the Confederacy, the Jones County rebellion was notable for the fact it did cross lines of race, largely because of the relationship between Newt and Rachel Knight. It is also the first film of the modern era to examine Reconstruction in realistic terms and to underline how the Black Codes came to replace slavery with new forms of humiliation for freedmen.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Aslan
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 5:15pm

I must correct the author of this article in her insinuations that Ross somehow exaggerated Knight’s accomplishments.

I must correct the commenter and point out that I did no such thing.

The author of this article must live in some country where all things are politically correct, history has been carefully revised to excise all the evil and Donald Trump, who is openly racist, is not running for President.

I have no idea what this means, or how it relates to my review. Are you suggesting that because Donald Trump is running for president, I should have given this movie a pass? If so, I would *love* to hear your justifications for this.

Aslan
Aslan
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 5:47pm

You linked to a “Lost Cause” “historian” at an obscure Louisiana college as an “expert” on Newton Knight rather than Prof. Bynum, Prof. Stauffer or others who are preeminent experts on the Jones County uprising.

You have, unwittingly no doubt, become an ally of neo-Confederates who have been spamming every forum discussing this subject (see the Smithsonian article on the historical Free State of Jones) to deny its reality, to reassure racist Southerners that Newt Knight, Jasper Collins and Will Sumrall were traitors and all Southerners, planters and yeomen alike, fought to preserve the rich planter class’ way of life.

Free State of Jones shows the brutality and the reality of life for impoverished white Southerners during the Civil War as no film ever has, and also showed maroons and later freedmen who dared to stand and fight despite overwhelming odds. Odds which were also loaded against the whole of the Knight Company.

African Americans (like women of all colors) have been deprived for most of history of agency: both groups dependent on the good (or too often, ill) will of white men and subjugated by them. This is a (despicable, but unavoidable) historical reality. To try to paint it otherwise is to be divorced from the past reality which lingers in the present to such a great degree. And which Trump is openly flaunting to gain votes (see his son’s comments on the Confederate flag this week).

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Aslan
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:31pm

You linked to a “Lost Cause” “historian”

If you’re referring to the Southeastern.edu link, I don’t see how that — or anything you say that follows — has anything to do with me suggesting that Ross “exaggerated” anything.

You have, unwittingly no doubt, become an ally of neo-Confederates

Hilarious. Because I’m tried of white saviors, I’m a neo-Confederate who is denying reality? Unbelievable.

African Americans (like women of all colors) have been deprived for most of history of agency

That doesn’t mean they don’t have their stories that can be told.

I suggest you reread my review. You clearly missed the point of it entirely, and instead chose to go off a tangent that has nothing to do with my criticisms of this movie.

Anonymous
Anonymous
Mon, Aug 01, 2016 11:11pm
Aslinn McIntyre
Aslinn McIntyre
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 3:16pm

Okay, the writer doesn’t like the “white savior” stories in the movies. Here is my suggestion and I encourage everyone to say this instead of complaining about it: If you want to hear the stories of George Washington Williams, then tell his story…the fact he is a character in a movie called the Legend of Tarzan can be used to make us more curious about the character and lead to a story about him….I had never heard of him til now. Nor had I heard of the United States of Jones. Tell the truth of those stories and draw out the characters who exemplify black heroism in history, but stop flogging this “white savior” thing to death. I am really pretty sick of it…

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 4:25pm

MaryAnn isn’t a producer or a film director. She’s a critic. It’s her job to point out that producers and film directors have made far too many movies about “white saviors.” While some of those movies may, individually, be terrific, the trope has long since become a tiresome cliché.

If you’re sick of reading complaints about “white saviors,” some of us are just as sick of seeing movies about them. We would love it if people made movies about black saviors instead. In fact, MaryAnn went out of her way to request exactly that. She even provided a link to a video about Harriet Tubman.

Also, we’d love it if the movies about “white saviors” weren’t as lousy as Tarzan and Free State of Jones.

Aslinn McIntyre
Aslinn McIntyre
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 4:37pm

Then this would be a call for black artists to tell these stories then, wouldn’t it….

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 5:02pm

It’s a call for studios to support the artists who are already trying to make those films.

Aslinn McIntyre
Aslinn McIntyre
reply to  Danielm80
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:24pm

Well, you are the movie goer….don’t go to movies you feel don’t tell the story you want to hear. Write to studios or post on studio websites the sort of stories you want to pay money to see, write to movie makers you like watching and suggest stories you would like to be made into movies. Complaining does nothing…all it does is complain…proactively talking to people, companies, artists, whoever gets more done and get you what you want to spend your money on. Believe me, everyone’s money is green, regardless of the pocket it comes from…

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:37pm

If that’s the standard you’re following, then you should write your own movie reviews and support critics who enjoyed these two movies, rather than complain about MaryAnn’s review.

Lucy Gillam
Lucy Gillam
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Sat, Aug 06, 2016 11:37pm

You know, people are always saying, “vote with your dollars.” The problem is, we can’t vote for movies that aren’t being MADE. I’ve been to see the new Ghostbusters three times, not just because I loved it (I did), but because it’s the first opportunity I’ve *had* in a very long time to let my wallet show that I want movies that are just like the movies made about men, but with women in the lead.

Also, complaining *can* accomplish quite a lot. If people just stay away from a movie, the powers that be have no idea *why.* Silence is impossible to read. If enough people explain *why* they’re staying away, maybe the message will get through. And for some of us, complaining and organizing complaint into groups is the only power to effect change that we really have.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Lucy Gillam
Sun, Aug 07, 2016 1:09pm

we can’t vote for movies that aren’t being MADE.

Bingo.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 5:13pm

Yes. It’s just that easy. Black artists, get on it! Just ignore all the obstacles Hollywood throws in your path.

Aslinn McIntyre
Aslinn McIntyre
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:25pm

Sure it is that easy actually.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Tue, Aug 02, 2016 5:12pm

Funny how white men don’t have to make their own movies to get their stories told. Funny, that.

Nor had I heard of the United States of Jones

And you still haven’t.

I am really pretty sick of it…

How difficult life must be for you.

Aslinn McIntyre
Aslinn McIntyre
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:25pm

Actually you don’t know me personally so shag off

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Aslinn McIntyre
Wed, Aug 03, 2016 1:35pm

And you are gone.

6161
6161
Sat, Aug 13, 2016 4:42am

>I’m biast: Nothing

G’on. Pull the other one.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  6161
Sat, Aug 13, 2016 3:29pm

Meaning what?

princeton67
princeton67
Fri, Dec 29, 2017 1:18am

And after the Congo freed itself from Belgium, the First and the Second Congo Wars killed about 5 million. Colonialism was heinous; tribalism, worse.

Randall Moon
Randall Moon
Sun, Sep 16, 2018 1:42am

MaryAnn Johanson: I highly recommend an essay by Adolph Reed, “The Trouble with Uplift,” in the current (Sept/Oct) issue of The Baffler. Reed, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has written a brilliant analysis of the “white savior” charge and the way it is sometimes used in knee-jerk fashion to dismiss movies that offer historically accurate and moving depictions of blacks, whites, and biracial characters working in solidarity for freedom.

“The Free State of Jones” is a brilliant movie and “perhaps” (as Reed says) “the only filmic representation ever of freedpeople’s self-organization via the Union League — a key chapter in early Southern post-bellum efforts to create an anti-planter coalition of biracial workers’ parties” that “‘white savior’ dismissals telllingly overlook.”

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  Randall Moon
Sun, Sep 16, 2018 3:07pm

Reed writes: “the only way to narrate the story without Knight as the central dramatis persona would be to abandon historical accuracy.”

BS. The central dramatis persona is always a storytelling CHOICE, not an inevitability of the universe, and it always reveals the biases and blind spots of the storyteller. As MaryAnn notes, historical accuracy is one thing, the choice of how to FRAME that history is another. There’s no reason that “the only filmic representation ever of freedpeople’s self-organization” can’t be told from the vantage point of the freedpeople themselves.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 12:11pm

“the only way to narrate the story without Knight as the central dramatis persona would be to abandon historical accuracy.”

Oh, does NOT write that, does he? Jesus Christ.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 12:47pm

Yep. :-/

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Randall Moon
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 12:10pm

knee-jerk fashion to dismiss movies that offer historically accurate and moving depictions of blacks, whites, and biracial characters working in solidarity for freedom

A movie that wants to be actually described thusly needs to center nonwhite characters, at a minimum, AT LEAST as much as it centers white characters.

“The Free State of Jones” is a brilliant movie

I disagree. Obviously.

the only filmic representation ever of freedpeople’s self-organization

That is is the only such filmic representation is damning of Hollywood (and of our culture at large). It’s still one that does not put those freedpeople at its center.

Bluejay
Bluejay
Sun, Sep 16, 2018 3:14pm

I guess that thrilling action drama about Harriet Tubman, Union spy and military leader, has been remade too many times to count, right?

Oh, it’s finally happening. (Yay!) And with Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr, no less.

My one complaint with Hollywood’s use of gobsmackingly good Broadway singers in non-singing roles is that, well, they won’t sing. Oh well — time for me to listen to the Color Purple and Hamilton soundtracks again.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Bluejay
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 12:11pm

We must keep our fingers crossed for that one.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Wed, Sep 19, 2018 12:57pm